Athletics: Support sought for new strategy

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By Adrian Warner

PLANS FOR a new worldwide Olympic drug testing agency are unlikely to stop some athletes from using banned substances. The proposals, which aim to send drug testers around the world to carry out surprise checks, should enable competitors from all sports to be tested in the same way. But there are two main hurdles which the Olympic agency must overcome before it can truly restrict the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Firstly, although tests can detect competitors using more traditional substances like steroids, they have yet to find a test for the expensive but fashionable human growth hormones, which are believed to be very common in some changing-rooms.

Secondly, the new proposals still require the approval of all sports if they are to be effective in punishing competitors who try to cheat their way to glory.

The International Olympic Committee will put the proposals to international federations, Olympic and doping officials at a world drugs conference next February. But Olympic leaders and sports must agree to common anti- doping rules if any agency is to be fair and effective, and the next few months are likely to see intensive talks to smooth the way for a decision between all parties at the conference.

The main focus will be a new medical code to outline common doping bans and drug testing procedures for all sports. The new Olympic agency, which is expected to cost at least $40m (pounds 25m), would play a major role. However, it is believed that there are still a number of sports - thought to include volleyball, cycling and tennis - which would be unwilling to accept the code in its present form.

The IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, has said he is confident that agreement on the code will be reached this time. Samaranch has the power to expel federations from the Olympics, or to cut the money handed out to sports from television and sponsorship revenue from the Games, and while the expulsion threat was suggested before Atlanta but not carried out, there are those in the IOC who may not have so much patience with sports who drag their feet this time.

It appears that there was a real determination at Thursday's IOC executive board meeting that something had to be done. But the February conference will show whether that determination can be turned into action before the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The alternative is more years of indecision while some athletes continue to take drugs.