General leads the battle through Olympic ranks

Sydney Olympics officials, still dodging flak from the scandal of premium Games tickets siphoned off for the wealthy, will breathe a sigh of relief tomorrow when their latest tormentor, a retired four-star American general, leaves town.

Sydney Olympics officials, still dodging flak from the scandal of premium Games tickets siphoned off for the wealthy, will breathe a sigh of relief tomorrow when their latest tormentor, a retired four-star American general, leaves town.

General Barry McCaffrey, a Gulf War veteran who is President Clinton's "drugs tsar", has been locked in a war of words with Australian Olympic Committee officials since he flew into Sydney last weekend, all guns blazing, to attend an international conference on drugs in sport.

At the centre of their dispute is the International Olympic Committee's recently established World Anti-Doping Agency, which the United States has repeatedly criticised, claiming that it will not be able to function effectively because it will not be fully independent of the IOC.

The Australians lobbed the first grenade before General McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, even arrived. John Coates, the AOC's president, declared that the General was "no friend of the Olympic movement" and made a clumsy attempt to ban him from visiting the Olympic Park facilities at Homebush Bay.

General McCaffrey, the recipient of three Purple Heart medals for wounds sustained during active service tours that included Vietnam and Iraq, was barely bruised by the attack. He went ahead with a press conference at the Olympic Aquatic Centre, where he laid into the WADA, and he repeated the criticism the following day at the 26-nation drugs conference. Yesterday, after private meetings with Coates and with Kevan Gosper, the IOC's Australian vice-president, he was in slightly more conciliatory mood, announcing that he had accepted an invitation to visit the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne to discuss ways of improving the WADA.

The General, a small, precise man with a military bearing and a movie star drawl, said that he had had "a civil conversation" with Coates, adding: "He knows a lot more about the doping issue than I do. I suspect that, underneath it all, we've probably got the same purpose, both of us."

Drawing copiously on military analogies, he professed himself optimistic that the war against doping in sport could be won. The question was, he said: "What are we willing to do to reassure the four billion people that watch the Olympics that the gold medallists have won on the basis of talent?"

Despite his hardline views, the General is clearly not a man without poetry in his soul. In a reference to heroin, he said: "It actually changes the neurochemistry of your brain. You can't love the same way; you can't enjoy sunsets the same way."

Ben Johnson has failed another drugs test - this time one that the Canadian sprinter arranged himself in his fight for reinstatement following his life ban after a second positive test. Johnson's agent said he had tested positive for a banned diuretic but said it was taken for medical reasons to assuage severe pain.

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