IAAF seeks to restore order in drug hearings chaos

With the Sydney Olympics just weeks away, track and field's world governing body meets on Wednesday to consider the fate of athletes awaiting doping hearings.

With the Sydney Olympics just weeks away, track and field's world governing body meets on Wednesday to consider the fate of athletes awaiting doping hearings.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation called an extraordinary meeting of its decision-making council to deal with several pending drug cases before the Sydney Games, which start on September 15.

The IAAF hopes to create a policy to standardise the treatment of all pending arbitration hearings. The council is also expected to deal with a few individual cases, such as those of 1992 Olympic 5,000-metre champion Dieter Baumann of Germany and high jump world-record holder Javier Sotomayor of Cuba.

Baumann, banned for two years for a positive nandrolone test last fall, was cleared two weeks ago by the German federation's legal panel, which ruled there had been irregularities in the taking, storage and transport of his urine samples.

But the IAAF wants to re-examine the case and could still prevent Baumann from competing in Sydney.

Baumann insists he was innocent, claiming he had been the target of a plot when traces of nandrolone were found in a toothpaste tube he supposedly used.

"This case will probably be discussed," IAAF spokesman Giorgio Reineri said. "If the IAAF receives written recommendation of the German federation's doping board in time then it can rule to close the case or send it to arbitration."

A two-time world titlist and the 1992 Olympic champion, Sotomayor was stripped of his gold medal in the high jump at last year's Pan American Games after testing positive for cocaine.

Five weeks ago, a three-person IAAF arbitration panel overturned a ruling by the Cuban Athletics Federation that allowed Sotomayor to continue competing domestically and in other non-sanctioned meets. The IAAF suspended him from all competition until July 31, 2001.

Sotomayor denied using drugs, while Cuban President Fidel Castro and the country's athletics federation claimed his urine samples had been manipulated.

"The only thing left to do is for the athlete or the federation to request the council to consider the special circumstances," Reineri said. "To ask them for a kind of a pardon - or grace - because you have a good record all your life. That can be done."

The IAAF's doping commission probably won't rule on the case of British 400-meter runner Mark Richardson, who tested positive for nandrolone.

Richardson was cleared by UK Athletics after its nandrolone panel concluded that a combination of exercise and apparently legal dietary supplements could result in a failed test.

"It could be too soon after the UK Athletics hearing for the IAAF to have properly examined the case and decide whether or not to send it to arbitration," Reineri said.

Currently, if the IAAF sends a case to arbitration, the athlete involved is immediately suspended until the hearing takes place.

But ahead of the Olympics, a suspension can cause serious problems, since athletes are in danger of missing their national Olympic trials as a result. An athlete kept out of the Olympics could later be found innocent of doping charges.

Hoping to avoid litigation and to "guarantee the rights of the athletes," the IAAF suggested it could step back from its hardline stance on provisional suspensions - or step it up.

"We want to make sure that either all those athletes compete, or none of those athletes compete," Reineri said. "The IAAF wants to decide on a policy for all the cases, to avoid double standards for athletes.

"Some cases are still not resolved and it would be difficult to have all the remaining arbitration hearings before the Sydney Olympics."

The IAAF could decide to temporarily lift suspensions for athletes still awaiting arbitration hearings until after the games.

However, this means athletes later found guilty of doping charges would be stripped of any medals won at the Olympics.

The IAAF could also decide that no athlete awaiting a hearing be allowed to compete in Sydney. Again, that would be a major risk if those athletes are later exonerated.

Nandrolone, an easily detectable drug, has been at the center of controversy this year, following a rash of positive tests around the world that produced a total of 343 positive cases across all sports.

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