Drugs in sport: US urged to farm out drug testing

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The Independent Online
THE US Olympic Committee has been urged by an advisory panel to hand over the drug testing of athletes to an outside group.

The 39-member panel concluded that it is a conflict for the USOC to conduct drug testing of the same athletes the organisation supports financially, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The panel did not lack confidence in the Olympic Committee's ability, but was concerned about credibility. "It's very difficult in the international arena to have a high degree of credibility when you're running your own program," Baaron Pittenger, the chairman of the USOC's anti-doping committee, said.

Dick Schultz, the USOC's executive director, welcomed the recommendation that an independent body administer the drug tests. "It makes a lot of sense, but we have to take a closer look... This is something that would be a major change in our protocol," Schultz said.

Pittenger said the Olympic Committee could become a paying client of an outside-operated drug-control agency, an approach similar to the one taken by the Canadian Olympic Committee to test its athletes.

The advisory panel included doctors, athletes and drug-test administrators and met in late June. It is scheduled to submit a report to the USOC's anti-doping committee in September. Any change in the programme would have to be approved by the USOC's executive committee and board of directors.

Meanwhile, a medical expert testifying in the trial of six former East German sports officials accused of giving 19 female swimmers steroids in the 1970s and 1980s said yesterday the drugs probably had caused bodily damage.

Horst Lubbert, a Berlin endocrinologist and gynaecologist who recently examined 11 of the former swimmers, told a Berlin court it was probable that systematic doping had led to liver problems, extra body hair and deepening of the voice.

He said one patient had developed a liver tumour while being given steroids. The swimmer had also been taking birth control pills at the time, and it was probable that this cocktail of medication was the cause. Lubbert also said that another swimmer had grown a beard, five had experienced temporary voice deepening and that a total of three had developed liver complaints.

"I can only speak of probability," Lubbert told the court when asked if he could be sure that doping had caused health problems in the former swimmers. "I cannot offer a guarantee." The court said the swimmers should not be named to protect their identity.

Norbert Rietbrock, a professor of clinical pharmacology at Berlin's Benjamin Franklin Institute, testified that it was known as early as the late 1970s that anabolic steroids, even in low dosages, could lead to damaging side effects.

Dieter Binus, 59, is one of the six defendants accused of causing bodily harm to 19 adolescent female swimmers in the former communist country by giving them banned performance- enhancing substances between 1975 and 1989.

Binus admitted last month that he had given athletes in his care tablets containing anabolic steroids, but said that he believed the dosages - a maximum of 1,000 milligrams per year - had not been dangerous to their health. Binus, the only accused to have testified so far, said that he had been following the orders of his medical superiors.

The presiding judge, Hans-jorg Brautigam, told Binus at the time that because of his testimony the court could reach a quicker verdict and, if found guilty, he would probably only be fined. If the other five are convicted, they could face several years in jail.

Brautigam ordered the trial to resume on 24 August, when Binus will offer a plea and the prosecution will make its closing arguments. He said it was not sure whether the court would issue a verdict then or at a later date.