Drugs in sport: Australia ask IOC for drugs cash

THE AUSTRALIAN government has called on the International Olympic Committee to provide A$1.5m (pounds 600,000) to fund an international research programme to discover a test for "undetectable" drugs such as EPO before next year's Sydney Olympics.

But a senior US anti-drugs campaigner said Washington wanted responsibility for tackling the drugs problem in sport taken away from the IOC and given to an independent body.

EPO - erythropoietin - helps boost an athlete's red blood cell count and is used by athletes in endurance sports such as cycling or cross- country skiing because it cannot be detected by conventional urine tests. But it is also one of the most dangerous drugs, because it can thicken the blood and leave athletes open to cardiac arrest.

Australia, who have been pushing the IOC to introduce blood tests in time for the Sydney Games, said the federal government was willing to plough the money into the programme but wanted the IOC to match it "dollar for dollar".

"The IOC has already given its in-principle approval for athletes to be blood-tested in Sydney," Australia's federal sports minister Jackie Kelly said. Speaking at the start of an international drugs summit in Sydney yesterday, she said the programme would take six to nine months and involve scientists from Australia, France, Canada, Norway, China, Italy and the US.

Scientists at the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory had already discovered a way to detect synthetic EPO in blood samples, she added, but needed to conduct more research to validate the tests.

But the US anti-drugs campaigner Barry McCaffrey criticised the IOC's attempts to police doping, calling for the establishment of an independent body to tackle the drugs problem. McCaffrey told the delegates that America did not want the IOC to run the body charged with investigating drugs in sport because of a potential conflict of interest.

The director of the White House Office of National Drugs Control Policy said they were also concerned that the IOC had decided to establish its World Anti-Doping Agency without consulting individual countries and had appointed a chairman, even though the board had not been decided.

Australia's Kevan Gosper retorted: "There is an incorrect perception in some places that the IOC does not welcome government participation in the fight against doping. This perception is entirely wrong."

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