Praise for China over walker's ban
Peter Simpson in Beijing
IAAF welcomes latest anti-drug move
China slapped another harsh ban on one of its star athletes yesterday - and won applause from international sports chiefs for its get-tough approach towards dope cheats ahead of the Olympics.
Race walker Song Hongjuan escaped a lifetime banishment because she has not made the Olympic cut and instead was handed a four-year ban after failing a dope test in February.
'This is a harsh ban for a first offence by someone who was not going to represent the national side at the Games,' said Chris Butler, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) anti-doping manager. 'But it's a punishment we endorse and want to see more nations taking towards dopers.
'We applaud China for its approach to doping.'
The 24-year-old Song, who was 14th in the women's 20km at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 15th in the same event at last year's world championships, tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO). She had been tested by IAAF representatives in Beijing on February 24.
The four-year punishment is double the minimum recommended by the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada). But China is determined to send a foreboding message to all levels of its vast and complex government centralised sporting machine that cheaters bring shame on the motherland in its Olympic year and will not be tolerated.
Song's disgrace comes after swimmer Ouyang Kunpeng and wrestler Luo Meng tested positive for banned substances and were immediately struck off for life because they were Olympic hopefuls competing at national level.
In March, the sports ministry warned that any national athlete who tested positive would be banned for life along with their coach.
Their 'Measure for Punishing Doping Violations of Athletes of National Teams' also said an athlete caught doping would result in his or her entire provincial and local teams being banned from top domestic competitions, and provincial sports officials also being punished.
'Despite the repeated warnings and multiple measures by the General Administration of Sport and the China Athletic Association (CAA), several cases of positive tests or athletes missing tests have occurred,' read a notice on the CAA website, which also said anti-doping work within the Olympic team was being stepped up.
'We welcome China's approach to make athletes and their coaches aware from the early stages of their careers that doping will not be tolerated,' the IAAF's Butler said.
He added that the 2008 Games next month would see the most tests carried out by testers at an Olympics.
'The more inspectors there are the more people will be caught so it's hard to determine if this will be the cleanest Games.
'But China is setting the standards that we want to see,' added Butler.
Song tested positive for outlawed EPO which boosts the number of blood cells and enhances the body's capacity to use oxygen.
It is favoured by endurance athletes.