January 25, 2004

Salt Lake tests show drugs in sports a worldwide problem

By Robert Weiner and Colin Miller

The International Olympic Committee's recent testing for THG, the new endurance-enhancing drug abused by elite athletes, in samples of Salt Lake Olympians is a good step, but only a blip on the radar screen of what must be done to stop drug cheating in sports.
    The IOC's announcement of no positives is almost meaningless. It wasn't THG in Salt Lake that was the supposed test-beater in early 2002. Darbepoetin (DBO) was then the new rage in Salt Lake and was busted there.
    That is the beauty of the IOC's catch-all "related" language -- the cheaters can't beat the system if the science is ahead of them. The THG defense of top U.S. miler Regina Jacobs that "it wasn't on the list" runs smack into that word "related."
    Now what has to happen is retroactive saving of samples with no time limit: The deterrent and legitimate scaring element will be an effective tool. There should be no time limitation on Olympic honesty, as Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former U.S. drug czar, often said. If we can use 30 year-old DNA to prove or disprove criminals' guilt, the Olympics can save samples, too, for when the science allows more accurate testing. Tests for HGH and blood-doping are still being worked on, as well as the "next" versions of both EPO and steroids.
    Moreover, the bashing of the United States needs to stop. If the IOC wants to publicly flog America because it now knows retroactively that Jerome Young cheated in winning a 400-meter relay medal in Sydney three years ago, what about 10,000 East Germans whose 1970s and '80s state policy is now documented in the courts as forced steroids, and all the Chinese swimmers who took drugs in the '80s and '90s?
    Fair and equal is fair and equal and the world must be brought in as a whole.
    IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) President Lamine Diack could only shallowly and narrowly assert in December, "We are where we are today because the United States have proved to be lax." Now, it is easy to dump on the superpower and make it a scapegoat but, unfortunately for Mr. Diack's argument, the rest of the world combines infinitely more athletic power, population and medals than the U.S. will ever singly accrue.
    In addition to the sad history of Germany and China, we now see regular busts of African distance runners, including the current world steeplechase champion from Morocco; Bulgarian weightlifters who make a regular diet of steroids, with three just expelled, including the Olympic champion; the recent disgraces of the Spanish, Russian, Slovenian and Norwegian skiers in Salt Lake and since; the just-busted Olympic women's shot put champion from Belarus; and the still-unpunished Austrians for the room full of blood-doping equipment found at the end of the Salt Lake Olympics, to which the Austrians asserted they were conducting flu prevention.
    These citations only scratch the surface of the daily clippings of busted athletes from around the globe.
    The United States has major structural problems. President Bush made an important declaration in Tuesday's State of the Union address that "the use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids is dangerous and sends the wrong message." However, in terms of real action, the post-McCaffrey White House drug czar's office has done next to nothing. It even refused to host a summit on drugs and sports when USA Track and Field begged it to do so after the THG discovery -- asserting that the White House Drug Office does not respond to "press" statements.
    McCaffrey would have recognized the overarching problem. The new drug czar, John Walters, has only sent lower-ranking officials to major sports drug conferences -- even the 100-plus-nation World Code conference last year -- and has not called a single news conference with sports initiatives. That is despite the fact that over 500,000 American youth abused steroids last year.
    Maybe this attitude will now change. Time will tell.
    Acknowledging U.S. failures and inadequacies, solving drugs in sports is a worldwide problem and all nations must take responsibility. Not only the integrity of competition but the health of all children is at stake.

    Robert Weiner was spokesman for the White House Drug Policy Office (1995-2001) and World Anti-Doping Agency press consultant for the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002. Colin Miller is vice president of the men's rugby team at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.