New York Daily News
      July 20, 2004

      Doping could cost city the Olympics

Even before the Athens Games can begin, the Olympic movement and professional sports must confront a widening scandal involving allegations of performance-enhancing drugs. But the standing of athletes is not all that is at stake.

The bid of New York City and the U.S. to host the 2012 Olympics is on the line.

Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee president, has said as much: “One of the criteria is whether a country has complied with WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), and we are still a long way” from choosing the 2012 host city. Clearly, the U.S. drug scandal, whether it still exists at that time, and how and if we’ve cleaned it up, will be big factors in the voting.

The reputations of some of America’s best-known, star athletes, like Sydney five-time medallist Marion Jones, baseball super-slugger Barry Bonds, 100-meter world record holder Tim Montgomery and distance runner Regina Jacobs, are being badly damaged if not destroyed.

But the issue doesn’t just affect athletic icons. They are just the starting point.

Last year over a million American teenage boys and girls abused steroids – a tripling over the past decade – more than those who used crack or heroin, and almost half as many as ecstasy users, the last three which we consider potent drugs.

Prominent athletes invariably serve as role models for kids who assume their behavior is acceptable. Many youth will simply seek the same “edge” they think the pros have.

Following Mark McGwire’s 70 homers to break the Maris and Ruth records while admitting use of androstenedione (“Andro”), a substance now banned by Major League Baseball, its abuse quintupled nationwide.

With the Summer Olympics in Athens nearing, children worldwide will be watching images of sculpted athletes performing impossible feats. The cheating aspect of this issue is disgraceful, but the health risks pose an even greater concern. At a recent doping agency meeting in Oslo, the Norwegian Sports Confederation distributed posters of steroid-using athletes, including a picture of a man with shrunken testes and a woman replete with chest hair. Only in Scandinavia would the truthful ramifications be so graphically depicted. We recently showed the posters with advance permission to a University of Virginia class on national drug policy, and the 200 students reacted with initial amusement and then shock – the posters’ message worked.

Former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey launched a campaign in 1999 for world and U.S. sports anti-doping agencies to be “independent, open, accountable, no-notice, and retroactive.” Those five objectives are even more important today, though perhaps more difficult to obtain.

On June 3, the House passed legislation banning steroid precursors and performance-enhancing drugs. We hope the Senate will do the same when it considers the legislation.

We also hope that Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, and other sports stars are telling the truth when they say they are drug-free. It does matter – to the athletes, to our children – and to New York.

Weiner, drug policy consultant, directed public affairs for the White House National Drug Policy Office, 1995-2001.  Varghese is sports and athletics chair of the University of Virginia Lodge.