Drugs In Sport: Banks leads attack on `sad, soured, sullied' IOC

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The Independent Online
TONY BANKS, Britain's Minister for Sport, yesterday led calls for far-reaching reforms of the International Olympic Committee as it convened on home territory for the World Conference on Doping in Sport.

Banks demanded that an organisation which has been traumatised in recent weeks by revelations of corruption should become a democratically elected body, and he questioned its ability to operate a truly independent dope testing agency.

"The reputation of the IOC is once again on the line, and we expect it to clean up its act," Banks said. "The system operating at the moment does not have the confidence of our Olympic athletes." As Banks spoke out, the beleaguered IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, sat stoically no more than 10 feet away. Perhaps he was pondering on his sins in a previous life.

The notion of establishing an out-of-competition testing body is one of the key proposals at the conference, which got underway in the Palais de Beaulieu. A working party chaired by Dick Pound, the IOC vice-president who is conducting the internal investigation into allegations of bribery over Olympic site selections, is recommending the establishment of an agency at the cost of $25m (pounds 15.25m).

But Banks claimed it would not be appropriate for the IOC to run such an agency itself. "It needs to be in the aegis of an agency of the United Nations, perhaps the World Health Organisation," he said.

He also criticised the method of entry to the IOC, which has traditionally rubber-stamped selections made under the direction of Samaranch. "There is no substitute for elections," said Banks, whose comments were echoed by delegations from the United States and Germany.

"As someone who regularly puts himself up for election, I'm a great fan of them," Banks added. "They are the way all democracies should proceed, including international sports federations. Otherwise people become suspicious.

"We do expect the IOC to reform its structure. It's not the sort of structure that should enter the 21st century. Juan Antonio Samaranch understands that. We believe in the principles of the Olympic movement, but at the moment it is looking rather sad, and rather soured, and rather sullied."

Samaranch himself fitted that description yesterday as he digested an attack from one of his most senior vice-presidents, Prince Alexandre de Merode, who claimed the president had set the fight against doping back by 10 years. The head of the IOC medical commission claimed Samaranch had opposed his plans to establish an independent out-of-competition testing agency in 1989.

"The plan was shot down in flames by 90 per cent of the people who today are in favour," de Merode said. "We have lost 10 years. The figure required for setting it up then was $3m. Today it is $25m."

General Barry R McCaffrey, the director of the White House Drug Policy Office, touched on several of the points raised by Banks when he addressed the meeting. "The Olympic anti-drug and doping programme should be operative 365 days of every year and should be overseen by a separately established drug testing and oversight agency," he said.

McCaffrey added that the United States was ready to fund $1m-worth of research to help close "the scientific gaps in drug testing that provide safe havens for chemical cheating".

At a later meeting, he called for the IOC to open its financial books to scrutiny, and added: "There has to be some kind of notion of elections based on democratic principles, for the benefit both of the IOC membership and the wider community it serves. The IOC needs to address these difficult issues."

Germany's Interior Minister, Otto Schily, added his weight to the this line of argument. "In my view the IOC cannot discharge the functions which go with its role, unless the institution is completely overhauled and its finances are laid open."

Banks also directed his comments towards an area where Britain and the IOC have been at odds, namely the length of bans given out for serious doping offences. Britain reluctantly fell in line with the International Amateur Athletic Federation's reduction of the maximum first-time ban from four to two years in 1997.

The shift followed successful appeals in civil courts by banned athletes to have their bans reduced to two years, claiming unfair restraint of trade. Britain retains its stance of banning any serious doping offenders from taking part in any future Olympics, but Banks made it clear yesterday that the current state of affairs was still not regarded as being satisfactory.

"Our government is responsible towards our athletes, and the majority of them want to see the introduction of life bans for offenders and blood testing," Banks said. "Whether we get our wish here is still to be seen, but we are bound to push for it because our athletes want it."

He is unlikely to have his wish at this conference. One of the other main objectives here is to standardise penalties for doping abuse, which will mean accepting two-year bans in order not to fall foul of civil actions.

Banks also sounded a warning to any domestic federations dragging their feet on doping. "We shall withdraw funding from all UK bodies that are not rigorously imposing doping control," he said.

A submission by a Finnish judge, Lauri Tarasti, here today may offer encouragement to Britain's European 200m champion, Doug Walker, who faces the possibility of a two-year ban after two dope tests indicated the presence of the banned steroid, nandrolone.

Tarasti, in a discussion of legal liability in doping cases, cites the case of the Nigerian hurdler Ime Akpan, who was cleared by the International Amateur Athletic Federation in 1995 when she claimed metabolites of nandrolone found in her sample had come from a substance not on the IOC banned list.

Walker, who will learn if he has a case to answer by 14 February, has said his adverse finding stemmed from an innocent substance. But it is unlikely to be the one taken by Akpan, as that was Norilyn, a contraceptive for women.