Game up for Sydney drug users

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The Independent Online

A combined blood and urine test, capable of detecting the banned drug EPO, was approved by the International Olympic Committee's medical commission in Lausanne yesterday. Assuming the decision is approved by the IOC's juridical commission, and ratified by the IOC executive board after meetings on 28 and 29 August, the Sydney Olympics will open with a huge defence in place against an abuse which has distorted sporting competition in recent years.

A combined blood and urine test, capable of detecting the banned drug EPO, was approved by the International Olympic Committee's medical commission in Lausanne yesterday. Assuming the decision is approved by the IOC's juridical commission, and ratified by the IOC executive board after meetings on 28 and 29 August, the Sydney Olympics will open with a huge defence in place against an abuse which has distorted sporting competition in recent years.

The 15-member medical commission, comprising doping experts and scientists, spent two days considering research before concluding that a urine-based method developed by a French laboratory, together with a blood sampling control, devised in Australia, would provide indisputable proof that a competitor was using EPO (erythropoietin).

"The final decision will be taken by the executive board but one of the most difficult stages is now behind us," said Prince Alexandre De Merode, the chairman of the IOC medical commission. "The acceptance by scientists of this is a great step forward in our fight against doping."

He added: "We are not willing to take on an uncertain test, but we have accepted this dual method because it gives us sufficient guarantees. I don't see any possibility of error."

Finding a dependable test for EPO, which stimulates the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, has been a top priority for the IOC. "EPO is the worst of the undetectable drugs prevalent in sporting society," said John Boultbee, the executive director of the Australian Institute of Sport. "Now those who cheat with EPO know they should stop or not come to Sydney. And those who don't cheat know they have a more level playing field.

"This is a test that relates to athletes using EPO or who have used EPO. They can take no shelter anywhere if this test gets through the juridical commission and the executive board. It's a clear signal to any athlete using EPO that they should stop."

De Merode said that the IOC planned to conduct 300 tests, starting on 2 September, when competitors begin to move into the athletes' village. Competitors will be subjected to the urine and blood tests, both of which must return a positive to incur any sanction. Detecting the presence of EPO in a urine sample will take up to a maximum of two days, while the blood tests will require three hours.

The French test, capable of directly detecting the presence of EPO, was due to be in place in time for this year's Tour de France, following intensive work in Paris. But when scientists voiced concern over the procedure, Tour officials decided to freeze cyclists' samples until the test obtained approval from the scientific community.

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