The grey smog was not the only unseemly condition casting a pall over China's Olympic city and Olympic Games yesterday. On the eve of the opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest Stadium, John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, painted a doomsday scenario of sports "withering" on the vine unless the poisonous infection of drugs can be significantly stemmed. Speaking from the same conference room platform, at the Main Press Centre, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, forecast "between 30 and 40" positive tests in the 15 days of action to come and acknowledged the bleak reality that drugs in sport, like criminality in society, is here to stay.
It has been around in the Olympic arena since long before Ben Johnson's infamous fall from grace in Seoul 20 years: Thomas Hicks was fuelled by strychnine when he won the marathon in St Louis in 1904; and the Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen died during the road race in Rome in 1960 as a result of ingesting amphetamines and nicotinyl tartrate. Even the scandal that clouded the Athens Olympics four years ago was still lingering here yesterday, Rogge confirming that Ekaterina Thanou had been interviewed by the IOC's disciplinary commission, which has yet to decide whether to lift the Olympic ban imposed on the Greek sprinter over the manner in which she allegedly avoided a drug testing team on the eve of the 2004 Games. There is also the pending case of the seven Russian athletes who have been suspended on suspicion of tampering with doping samples.
"The public do not have the same confidence that they once had," Fahey said. "But does that mean we can change sport back to its very essence as a fair-playing concept? We must. Otherwise we are morally bankrupt.
"We are saying to our kids, 'If you want to succeed, fill yourself up with a mouthful of pills'. And I don't want my grandchildren being the recipients of that. I think there are sports who recognise that their sport is in risk of simply dwindling. It ultimately means that the sport will wither if the public marches with its feet and walks away."
The IOC will be conducting 4,500 tests in Beijing and all samples are to be frozen for eight years in case new methods of analysis can retrospectively catch up with the cheats who are ahead of the testing game. There were 3,500 tests in Athens four years ago, 26 of them positive. "That extrapolates to 33.3 positive tests here," Rogge said. "We have to be realistic. It would be wrong to be Utopians. Doping is to sport what criminality is to society and there will always be criminality in society. You have approximately 500 million people practising competitive sport around the world. You don't have 500 million saints on earth. But our sacred duty is to reduce it to the lowest possible level. We have an obligation to put in place all the means we have, but we cannot hope to have zero doping."