World agency blasts USA Track and Field

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International anti-doping leaders today blasted USA Track & Field for suppressing details of positive drug cases and agreed to play an oversight role in testing of American athletes.

International anti-doping leaders today blasted USA Track & Field for suppressing details of positive drug cases and agreed to play an oversight role in testing of American athletes.

The World Anti-Doping Agency also expressed concern about the high number of Olympic athletes using asthma and other medications, reduced the field of cities bidding to become its permanent headquarters and approved $5 million in research funds to develop new drug tests.

USATF's drug-testing policies, which came under fire during the Sydney Olympics, were the subject of considerable debate at a meeting of the WADA foundation board.

WADA chairman Dick Pound described as "nonsense" USATF's reasons for not disclosing the names of athletes who fail drug tests, while the sport's world governing body complained it still has received no details on 10 positive U.S. cases.

Facing allegations that it covered up positive tests, USATF offered to hand over its entire drug-testing program to WADA as a means of restoring public confidence in the system.

WADA declined to go that far, however. Instead, Pound said it would rely on the newly formed U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to handle the testing, while WADA would act as an oversight body.

"We will get notification of all results as a third party and will have the authority to follow up on all elevated results," he said.

USATF chief executive Craig Masback has repeatedly denied any cover-ups and insisted that the federation has observed all correct procedures.

Under International Amateur Athletic Federation rules, a national body must immediately report any positive finding - including the name of the athlete - to the IAAF and suspend the competitor pending a hearing.

But Masback has cited confidentiality rules which prohibit the release of names until due process has run its course.

"It's utter nonsense that there's a rule in the United States that prevents the disclosure of the names," Pound said. "There is no reason whatsoever why the names can't be released."

Pound also contested Masback's assertion that in many cases the backup "B" sample fails to confirm the positive "A" sample finding.

"With all great respect, that is errant nonsense," he said. "U.S. figures show that 15-20 percent of results are not confirmed by the B sample. So something is wrong. It's important than some element of third party control is put into place."

IAAF anti-doping chief Arne Ljungqvist said he recently wrote to USATF pressing for details on 10 cases, including two in which athletes were reportedly exonerated after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.

"We still did not get the names," he said. "We get nothing. We have no idea why they were exonerated or who they are."

USATF has commissioned an independent inquiry panel to examine its drug testing procedures. The panel is to report its findings by the end of the year.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body headed by former Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, took over the drug control program for all American sports on Oct. 2. It plans to conduct 5,000 tests next year, including half on a no-notice, out-of-competition basis.

White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey said the U.S. agency has promised to disclose the names of any athletes testing positive.

"You can rest assured we'll try to sort this out," he said. "Hopefully in the coming months we can put this behind us."

On another issue, a report from independent observers who monitored drug testing in Sydney noted that 618 athletes provided medical waivers for use of medications, including 561 for the asthma drug salbutamol.

Salbutamol is on the list of banned substances, but is permitted for legitimate medical reasons.

The WADA panel called for an urgent study to examine whether these drugs were being abused for possible doping purposes.

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

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

The agency 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.

WADA appointed a five-person evaluation commission to study and rate the bids. The winning city will be named early next summer.

McCaffrey, who supports the Montreal bid, and others insist WADA should move out of the IOC's home city of Lausanne to assert its total independence.

In other developments:

- WADA approved a budget of $14.3 million for 2001, including $5 million for research. The money will be directed at finding tests for human growth hormone and other growth-related substances, as well as looking into the use of gene therapy for doping.

- The agency, which carried out more than 2,000 out-of-competition tests this year, set a target of 3,500 controls for next year, including in the seven Olympic winter sports. The board also amended its statutes to allow WADA to carry out in-competition tests in the future.

- WADA will write to the Italian Olympic Committee asking full details on reports that 61 Italian athletes, including five gold medalists in Sydney, showed high levels of human growth hormone in blood tests earlier this year.

There is no valid test for hGH. The committee which conducted the tests has been dissolved and the case has gone to the Italian courts.

"We can't consider those athletes who were named are guilty," IOC medical commission chairman Prince Alexandre de Merode said. "It was a total injustice, totally unfair."

- Sports and government officials vowed to work for harmonization of national and international drug laws, tests, sanctions and procedures, including a common list of banned substances and a single anti-doping code.