Olympics: Sense of unease in Olympic movement

The World Conference on Doping starts today in Lausanne against a disturbing backdrop of scandal.
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MEMBERS OF the International Olympic Committee gather in Lausanne this week to tackle an issue which threatens to undermine their movement. No, not bribery. Doping abuse.

But as delegates and officials seek to make crucial policy decisions in the long-awaited World Conference on Doping in Sport, they are in danger of having their attention distracted by the escalating scandal surrounding charges of bribery and corruption within the IOC.

Many IOC members will be feeling distinctly unsettled by yesterday's news that the FBI, investigating the charges of bribery by those who secured the 2002 Winter Olympics for Salt Lake City, has issued subpoenas to two educational institutions in Utah and asked them to check the names of 60 IOC officials.

The FBI's line of enquiry, on behalf of the US Department of Justice, follows allegations that free scholarships were offered to members of IOC representatives' families in an effort to gain their support for the bid.

Olympic leaders are stressing that the FBI is not investigating IOC officials directly, but the latest initiative will increase the sense of unease in a movement which has already seen the resignation of four IOC members and the temporary exclusion of five others pending a vote on their expulsion. The IOC president, who has faced a barrage of calls for his own resignation, will seek to shore up his position by calling for a vote of confidence from IOC members next month.

It is against this background that what could be one of the most telling advances against the problem of doping abuse in sport will take place.

One of the major functions of the World Conference, which takes place over three days starting today, was to make Samaranch's position more secure after the disastrous statement he was reported to have made last year implying that if doping did not actually harm athletes, it was acceptable. His words provoked a storm of outrage within the sporting community, and indeed the IOC itself, as it appeared to contradict the IOC position on doping.

The general thrust of this conference is to establish a clear and co- ordinated doping policy ahead of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, a policy that will stand up to the legal challenges that have undermined efforts to apply sanctions to doping offenders in the last 10 years.

There are hopes that there will be significant movement on the issue of blood doping and instituting a test that has been researched to determine illegal levels of human growth hormone, a naturally occurring substance which is believed to be widely employed by cheats.

One of the tactics being employed against those athletes who take civil actions against doping bans on the grounds of restraint of trade is to impose bans that will keep offenders out of the biggest competitions, such as the Olympic Games, while allowing them to make a living.

At its meeting on 20 August last year, the IOC executive committee established working parties to look into four crucial areas. Under the chairmanship of Dick Pound, the man charged with the IOC's internal investigation into bribery and corruption, one working party will recommend establishing a $15m (pounds 9.2m) Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Agency. It will extend drug testing beyond the period of the Games itself, and is intended to be an independent body run by a board drawn from the Olympic movement, governments, medical and scientific bodies, and athletes.

In the meantime, the IOC has stressed it is not investigating Sydney's winning bid for the 2000 Olympics despite reports that members of Australia's national Olympic body offered financial inducements to IOC members before the vote in 1993.