Olympic Games: Sydney braced for blood testing

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The Independent Online
Sydney's Olympic Games drugs chief is prepared for the possible introduction of blood testing in sport in time for 2000 but says followers of the Jehovah's Witness religion are providing the major hurdle.

Nicki Vance, the head of the Sydney Organising Committee, said his team would be prepared for any advances in drug testing but admitted that blood testing was an issue requiring a decision by the International Olympic Committee on moral rather than scientific grounds.

"There's been some research done and it appears from my reading that Jehovah's Witnesses may be the only group that have a problem with blood testing," Vance said yesterday.

"The Muslim religion apparently does not have a problem with it. That's one thing we'd obviously have to take into account - not only the scientific issues but also any kind of cultural or health issues.

"It's a lot different taking a blood sample with a needle than taking a urine sample - even though that may be more embarrassing it's not necessarily affecting their health in the same way."

Vance said her role would be to provide the infrastructure to support the IOC's doping commission, which was expected to take about 2000 urine tests during the 2000 Olympics. Sydney has an IOC-accredited laboratory, unlike Atlanta which needed to upgrade for the Games.

There were troubles with technology in Atlanta, where the High Resolution Mass Spectrometer made a controversial Olympic debut. Five samples which turned up positive on the machines for anabolic steroids in Atlanta had to be discarded, and the head of the International Amateur Athletic Federation doping commission, Arne Ljungqvist, said last month that the method was not 100 per cent reliable.

Vance admitted that the war against performance-enhancing drugs was a difficult one to fight. "It's unfortunate of course that athletes to try to find ways to cheat the system and as we catch up with incorporating things like out of competition programmes to compete with anabolic steroid use we are now looking at substances which are impossible to find in the urine with the current technology.

"Now there may well be new technology that finds ways to detect these substances in urine or they may find that the new technology requires blood sampling. We will have a blood testing contingency plan so we will be right on top of that issue."

Vance said the Sydney laboratory had one High Resolution Mass Spectrometer and would purchase "a couple more" for the Olympics. She said the key was to be ready to use whatever technology existed at the time of the Games and to keep track of advances in testing for drugs more contemporary than anabolic steroids, such as human growth hormone (hGH), erythropoietin (EPO) and testosterone. EPO and hGH cannot be detected by standard urine tests, while there is confusion on how to judge excessive testosterone.

Women's water polo, canoe slalom and trampolining are still in contention for the 2000 Olympics, organisers said yesterday. The Sydney Games Sports Commission chairman, John Coates, said he supported a six-team women's water polo competition if the number of players in each men's squad was reduced from 13 to 11. He said the international water polo governing body had agreed to the move.

Slalom canoeing can be added if the New South Wales State government decides to contribute funds to a proposed venue. The International Canoeing Federation and the local governing body where the site is planned have agreed to contribute to the venue.

Coates said the Sports Commission had decided to support canoe slalom's bid in principle.

Trampolining could be held in what was scheduled as a rest day in the gymnastics. The SOCOG general manager for sport, Bob Elphinston, said all three sports probably needed to win approval from the International Olympic Committee at next month's session in Lausanne.

Japan's Olympic officials yesterday selected the city of Osaka, the commercial hub of western Japan, as the nation's candidate to stage the 2008 Olympics. Osaka, which is 255 miles west of Tokyo, estimates it will cost pounds 950m to stage the games over 17 days from 25 July to 10 August. The city, Japan's third largest, has a population of about 2.5 million. The International Olympic Committee is to decide the host for 2008 in 2001.

In 1964 Tokyo became the first Asian city to host the summer Games. Sapporo, a city in northern Japan, held the 1972 winter games. The 1998 Winter Games will be held in the central Japanese city of Nagano.