Steroid crisis will threaten other American sports

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The Independent Online

The steroid drug scandal engulfing international athletics is now threatening to spread to baseball, American football and other major American sports.

The steroid drug scandal engulfing international athletics is now threatening to spread to baseball, American football and other major American sports.

Yesterday Regina Jacobs, the leading female United States middle-distance runner, became the latest athlete to be directly implicated in the affair, when she was named by the Washington Post as one of five US track and field competitors who have tested positive for the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).

She joins Kevin Toth, the US shot put champion, and the British sprint record-holder Dwain Chambers, who have already been identified as testing positive for THG. American anti-drug authorities claim the drug is distributed by BALCO, a nutrition supplements company based near San Francisco, which has links to some of the biggest names in US sport.

This week, Craig Masback, the chief executive of USA Track and Field, wrote to his opposite numbers in the other major leagues, calling for a summit in the next fortnight to address the problem of illegal drug-taking throughout American sport. "The situation in which we find ourselves is not a track and field problem or a baseball problem, but an American problem," he said.

Already in 2003, athletes from seven other sports federations here have been punished for drug offences, including seven swimmers and four cyclists. It was reported yesterday that federal investigators have now asked the welterweight boxing champion Shane Mosely to provide urine samples taken after his recent victory over Oscar de la Hoya.

BALCO is under investigation by a federal grand jury for possible money laundering, in a probe focussing on the financial dealings of its chief executive, Victor Conte. But it now seems certain to widen after federal agents, acting on an anonymous tip, raided BALCO last month and reportedly found containers holding anabolic steroids and various human hormones.

Conte denied wrongdoing, saying his company carries out blood and urine analyses of athletes to determine mineral and trace element deficiencies, and provides supplements to remedy these shortages and improve performance.

Among those due to appear before the grand jury are illustrious BALCO clients including world-class athletes as well as the baseball players Barry Bonds, the holder of the single-season home run record, and the New York Yankees star Jason Giambi, who is playing in the World Series against the Florida Marlins, and Bill Romanowski of the National Football League's Oakland Raiders.

Masback has already proposed a new zero-tolerance policy on steroid use, whereby even first-time offenders would face a $100,000 (£59,000) fine and a life ban. But if the scandal assumes the dimensions that many fear, other US sports may have no choice but to bring in more stringent anti-drug rules.

The NFL and the National Basketball Association already have random steroid testing. Baseball has just introduced more limited testing, but has yet to ban some substances outlawed in other sports. Earlier this year, two leading former players caused a furore when they claimed that 50 per cent of major league players used drugs.