Dopers 'will try their luck in Beijing'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2008, 12:00am

Experts predict new tactics will keep cheats ahead of game despite zero-tolerance policy

The real race to watch at the Olympics will be between doped-up athletes as they try to escape the clutches of determined anti-dopers, experts claimed yesterday.

Professor Mario Thevis, a leading anti-doping researcher at the Cologne Sports Laboratory in Germany, believes athletes are likely to outwit the gatekeepers again because they have found new ways to fool the clinical tests designed for Beijing 2008.

'Some athletes will use several drugs and doping methods in pre-Olympic training as they prepare for Beijing. But these substances will have left the body by the time the games start,' Thevis, who will be one of 12 independent scientists testing for dopers in August, told the South China Morning Post last night.

'That's one of the issues we cannot solve in time for the Beijing Olympics,' he added.

Thevis also singled out blood transfusions. Crooked athletes would siphon and freeze-store clean blood which they injected back into their bodies ahead of major competitions, he said. This crude technique did not involve taking performance-enhancing substances, but was illegal - 'yet hard to detect', added Thevis.

Prominent sports lawyer and anti-doping expert Guillaume Jeannet said yesterday the more athletes caught doping the better.

Jeannet, a former Olympic rower for France and consultant on anti-doping for a French international law firm, said: 'Dopers will be caught at Beijing, of that it is certain. And, paradoxically, the more positive tests we have, the more evidence we have that the doping control is effective.'

Their comments question the ability of the Chinese to enforce a lauded zero tolerance regime - a programme the world anti-doping agency Wada has hailed as the most stringent ever to make it all but impossible for cheats to slip through the net in August.

Beijing's anti-doping centre is one of only 33 in the world approved by Wada. It will conduct tests on nearly half the 11,000 Olympic competitors at a rate of 230-240 tests a day during the games - 25 per cent more than at Athens 2004 and nearly double the number in Sydney 2000.

Some 20 independent observers will monitor Wada-approved Chinese lab technicians at 41 test centres. China's newly formed anti-doping agency has pledged to eradicate the nation's poor reputation as serial cheats by screening all of its athletes and coaches for doping.

If the games fail to be the 'cleanest ever', radical calls to shake up the way sport approaches doping will grow louder.

Yesterday, Dr Julian Chang, chairman of the East Asian Games Medical Commission, argued in a letter to the Post that a possible solution 'would be either to criminalise the taking of performance-enhancing drugs, or legalise it'.

'Legalising the activity, despite being morally repugnant, does allow athletes to get better advice and access to pharmaceutical-grade, rather than veterinary, drugs,' he said. 'It should be an issue actively debated and acted upon now before the battle is lost.'

Jeannet said legalisation to try to recreate a level playing was not an option as it divided athletes between those who can afford performance substances 'such as those in the US', and those natural talents who can't, 'such as African long-distance runners'.

'We have to educate young athletes better as to the ethics and spirit of sport,' he said.

But he admitted should Beijing 2008 fail to live up to the expectations to beat the cheats, a consensus could arise on universal criminalisation of doping.

'Then the question would be how would sovereign states enact the same costly laws and court cases,' he added, referring to the United States sprinter Marion Jones, who was jailed for six months for doping by a US court.