WADA concerned over use of 'medications' by athletes

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Are Olympic athletes using medication for treating or cheating?

Are Olympic athletes using medication for treating or cheating?

That's the question anti-doping officials are asking about the asthma products and other medicines declared by hundreds of athletes during the Sydney Games.

Independent observers of the drug control program in Sydney called for an urgent inquiry into the misuse of medications for possible doping purposes.

The report, submitted on Tuesday to the World Anti-Doping Agency, said 618 athletes provided medical waivers declaring use of various products for alleged health reasons.

These included 561 cases for salbutamol, 38 for terbutaline and 19 for salmeterol, all mild drugs used to treat asthma, and 75 for a combination of those substances.

"It's surprising how much of them are taking medicines," WADA chairman Dick Pound said. "You look at it and say, 'How can all the finest athletes on the face of the earth be so sick?"'

The medical waivers were nearly double the 383 recorded at the Atlanta Games four years ago.

"We suspect some of the medical reasons are faked," said Jacques Rogge, vice chairman of the IOC medical commission. "There are people misusing a number of substances. But you have to trust the signatures of the team doctor. They are registered physicians."

While the Sydney certificates were signed by team doctors, they were not official medical documents. It was impossible to determine whether the prescriptions were legitimate, the report said.

Sixty percent of the cases were in four sports: swimming, track and field, cycling and rowing. Nearly 100 percent came from North America, Europe and Oceania.

The report noted that one unidentified delegation even submitted a medical certificate for clenbuterol, a steroid which is not permitted under any circumstances. A warning letter was sent to the doctor who signed the form.

The report proposed that, in the future, the International Olympic Committee require a statement verifying the medical needs rather than just a simple notification.

"If this is not done, there is a great risk of wholesale abuse, with generalized use of these medications in the absence of any medical justification," the report said. "The current increase in notifications strongly suggests that is already happening."

Salbutamol is on the IOC's list of banned substances, but is permitted for legitimate use by asthma sufferers.

There were 14 positive test findings for salbutamol in Sydney, but all were from athletes who had provided the waivers, meaning they were not registered as positive doping cases, the report said.

The report also cited "use of many borderline products that are not formally banned," including creatine, melatonin, ginseng and vitamin B15.

"The dosages or combinations in which the products are used are not always innocuous," the report said. "Such use attests to a search of 'magic potions' that has much in common with doping behavior. ... Such behavior is not so much a search for alternatives to doping as a substitute for doping."

Officially, there were 11 positive drug cases in Sydney, with five athletes stripped of medals.

Meanwhile, WADA reported that its out-of-competition testing program before the Sydney Games resulted in 23 positive results out of 2,073 doping controls. There were five positives in boxing, four in athletics, three in cycling, two each in equestrian, shooting, wrestling and weightlifting, and one each in rowing, volleyball and badminton.

Names of the 23 athletes involved were not given. None was allowed to compete in Sydney, WADA said.

In addition, 10 tests were declared "void" or invalid. These were mainly due to broken seals on sample containers. Five "voids" in badminton were blamed on the samples being "lost in transit."

In an Olympic first, WADA observers monitored all phases of drug-testing in Sydney. The report said the IOC's overall doping control program was carried out properly and professionally.

"These were the first games for some time in which there were no rumors of hidden or otherwise mishandled doping cases," the report said.

However, the observers cited several technical and logistical problems and offered suggestions for improving the system in the future.

On other issues, WADA:

- agreed to assume an oversight role in testing of U.S. track and field athletes, following complaints that USA Track & Field has failed to disclose the names of athletes who test positive.

WADA will rely on the new U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to handle the testing, while the world agency will be informed of any positives and follow up as necessary.

- pledged to continue studies into nandrolone and the likelihood that food supplements, some mislabeled, are producing some of the positive findings.

- selected six cities as finalists in the running to become WADA's permanent headquarters: Bonn, Germany; Lausanne, Switzerland; Lille, France; Montreal; Stockholm, Sweden, and Vienna, Austria. Four cities were eliminated: Barcelona and Madrid, Spain; Nice, France, and Singapore.

- approved a budget of $14.3 million for 2001, including dlrs 5 million for research.