Unfair Olympic Advantage?

Unfair Olympic Advantage?
Posted by FoM on August 12, 2000 at 11:54:05 PT
By David Ruppe
Source: ABCNews
In 1998 and 1999, 5,147 tests on British amateur athletes uncovered more than 500 instances of drug use or other performance-enhancing activity banned by the International Olympic Committee.   The detected drugs ranged from ephedrine, an ingredient found in cold medicine and caffeine, to anabolic steroids. Punishments, depending on the case, ranged from nothing, or a written warning, to a four-year ban from competition.
  In Australia, where the 2000 Summer Olympics begin Sept. 15 in Sydney, 4,801 drug tests were given to athletes during that period, with 44 cheaters receiving various levels of punishment.   In 1999, 1,623 tests were given to Canadians, resulting in four detected infractions.   And in the United States … well, nobody knows how many tests were given or how athletes were sanctioned in the United States. No one, that is, outside of the U.S. Olympic Committee and its former employees — and they’re not telling. A Policy of Silence: As a matter of policy, the USOC keeps a tight wrap on statistics indicating how many U.S. athletes are caught using banned performance-enhancing drugs and methods, and how the cases were dealt with.   Reports containing such information are not released, and former USOC officials say they are barred by a confidentiality agreement from disclosing such information. Even data that doesn’t disclose the identities of athletes is withheld.   “We as an organization historically have not released that information,” explains USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel, responding to requests from “As a matter of standard practice, we haven’t issued statistics that show those sorts of figures that you’re referencing.”   An important consequence of the secrecy, sports medicine experts say, is that they can produce little quantitative evidence to support or dispute the widely held view — given weight by complaints from two former USOC drug control officials — that U.S. amateur athlete “doping” is significant and that the USOC is turning a blind eye.   Experts are relegated to rummaging through old newspaper clippings for USOC official quotations and other dated scraps of fact.   “It makes it hard for anybody who wants to do current research on the subject,” says Kevin Wamsle, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Finding Proof of a Problem: The paucity of data also makes it difficult for critics and current and former Olympic officials to argue for aggressive change.   There’s a wide consensus among sports medicine experts and Olympic officials that doping is prevalent among athletes in many countries around the globe.   “It’s my opinion that the large majority of Olympic records set in the last 40 years were drug assisted,” says State College of Pennsylvania professor Charles Yesalis, one of the world’s foremost experts on sports enhancement drugs.   But there is an ongoing dispute about whether U.S. athletes and the USOC are part of the problem. The USOC’s previous two directors for drug testing have alleged significant doping by American athletes and charged the USOC with turning a blind eye. USOC officials dispute the charges.   “I think there is a significant problem with doping in sport,” Scott Blackmun, senior managing director for sport resources at the USOC, said during a news conference in July. “I do not think there is a significant problem with respect to the USOC’s conduct, at least the USOC’s commitment to its anti-doping program.” Wade Exum’s Complaint: In a rare breach of secrecy, the USOC’s last director for drug control, Wade Exum, filed a lawsuit against the USOC in July, in which he quoted some statistics.   Exum, who resigned in June, claimed roughly half of American athletes who tested positive for banned drugs in recent years were not sanctioned, and no athlete was sanctioned by the USOC for using testosterone over his nine-year tenure.   He said the USOC allowed “improperly lenient treatment for certain athletes presumed positive for performance-enhancing drugs and with most athletes receiving such light punishments, or no punishments, as to encourage the use of prohibited performance-enhancing drugs or doping methods.”   And, without naming names, Exum said he knew of instances in which U.S. athletes tested positive for doping at past Olympic trials and went on to win Olympic medals.   Data on U.S. doping and testing, according to Exum and others, can be found in an annual USOC report called “Drug Test Results/Status Report,” which the USOC has not released to the general public. Show Me the Facts: USOC officials have publicly denied Exum’s charges, saying there are no statistics to support them.   “I think the bottom line, from our standpoint, is that substantially all of his allegations are either untrue, unsubstantiated, or irrelevant,” said Blackmun, Exum’s former supervisor.   “So far, the people who have been making the allegations have not been able to provide us with a single fact that would suggest that we have done anything inappropriate,” said Blackmun.   Regarding Exum’s claim of statistics suggesting lenient punishment for drug offenders, Blackmun said, “We don’t know where that data comes from. We’re not in a position to deny or support the truth and accuracy of that.   “At some point in this process,” he said, “Dr. Exum is going to have to come up with some facts to support his allegations.”   But it’s not clear whether the sources of Exum’s alleged statistics will ever see the light of day. They could come out in court if Exum’s claims go to trial.   But if Exum and the USOC settle out of court, which some observers believe is likely, part of the settlement could be an agreement not to disclose the data. Public Domain: Dr. Robert Voy, the USOC’s outspoken anti-doping chief from 1984 to 1989, believes such statistics should be publicly available because the USOC is a public organization.   “If [the USOC] operates under the Sports Act, it’s a public organization,” says Voy, who resigned from his post charging drug use by American amateurs and a lack of USOC commitment to address the problem.   The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 appointed the U.S. Olympic Committee to be the nonprofit coordinating body for all Olympic-related athletic activity in the United States.   The U.S. National Collegiate Athletics Association, another amateur sports organization, is required by the act to make its drug test data publicly available, says Frank Uryasz, who heads the organization responsible for NCAA testing.   Dr. Jim Betts, a former volunteer chief of the USOC’s drug control committee, believes USOC statistics on doping testing are not necessarily confidential “because it was given to me as a member of the committee,” adding, “for committee use only.”   Drug testing statistics are readily available for Australia, Canada and Britain. The USOC’s counterparts in Australia and Canada regularly publish drug-testing statistics on their Web sites.   UK Sport faxed its numbers to In the case of the British and Australian statistics, each violation and subsequent punishment or non-punishment is detailed and the athletes’ identities withheld. Change Under Way? Exum’s suit and the USOC’s continued unwillingness to release statistics on U.S. doping come just as the battered USOC tries to improve its image on the issue of drug-abusing athletes.   In congressional testimony last year, U.S. drug “czar” Gen. Barry McCaffrey lauded new USOC leadership for addressing the doping issue, “as opposed to the reaction of others who have sought to adopt public relations, not public policy solutions.”   Publishing statistics “would demonstrate a new resolve on the part of the USOC to operate in a transparent and accountable manner,” says John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas who has written extensively on U.S. anti-doping program.   “The question is, why do they continue to stonewall on this issue? And I think one reason is they have never accommodated themselves to treating this in a transparent manner,” he says.   In an effort to reform U.S. anti-doping activity, the USOC in October will transfer its responsibility for managing drug testing, and presumably statistics, to a new independent agency called the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.   “A major, stated goal of USADA’s board is to regain the trust of both the athletes and the public and be transparent,” says board Chairman Frank Shorter.   Citing archival information on East German testing made public after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Shorter has argued he lost his second Olympic gold for the marathon in 1976 to an East German competitor who was using performance-enhancing substances.   Without information on previous U.S. doping, though, it will remain difficult to judge the degree to which American athletes have used banned substances, whether the new U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is making any progress, or — perhaps most significantly — whether U.S. athletes may have won victories they had no right to claim. Web Posted: August 11, 2000Copyright ©2000 ABC News Internet Ventures. Related Articles:White House Drug Czar Ready to Head Doping Panel Drug Policy Criticized in D.C. Executive Assails White House Drug Chief 
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