Fine of 80,000 yuan to deter cheats as the net is spread Athens-bound Chinese athletes have been warned they face lengthy suspensions and hefty fines if they are caught using performance-enhancing drugs, a high-ranking Chinese official said yesterday. General Administration of Sports anti-doping official Shi Kangcheng also warned doctors, coaches and officials would not be spared as the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) has declared war on drugs offenders and their accomplices. The COC, still mindful of the embarrassing drugs scandal that involved swimmers at the FINA World Championships in 1998, has made it clear it wants a clean image before Beijing hosts the Olympics in 2008. Doped athletes could face suspensions from all competitions for at least two years and fines ranging from $4,000 yuan to $80,000 - the top prize money given by the state for winning Olympic gold. The athletes' club, association and even governing sports body could also face fines and other punishments. The country's first anti-doping regulations were signed by Premier Wen Jiabao in February, imposing strict restrictions on the production, sale and use of steroids by athletes. 'We are following the international anti-doping regulations and we want to make sure our athletes are not using drugs,' said Shi. 'There are a number of sports that use explosive power, like weightlifting, athletics and swimming. These athletes may be tempted to use drugs to enhance their performances. They will suffer the consequences if they are caught. They will be severely punished,' he said. Provincial teams are likely to face a one-year suspension from all competition if there are two positive cases within one year. Repeat offenders face life bans. 'If we have two positive cases from the same sport within a year, the whole team from that sport will be thrown out of competition for a year,' said Shi. 'If there are four positive cases within four years from the same sport, then the entire provincial team for all the different sports will also be banned from competition. 'Entire provincial teams who are caught using drugs could be barred from competing in such competitions as the All-China National Games.' Shi said drug use in China had declined over the past 10 years, evidenced by the dwindling number of cases. When drug-testing was first introduced by the COC in 1990, five positive cases were discovered from a total of 165 samples, representing a 1.82 per cent positive rate. Shi said 5,48 urine samples were taken from athletes last year and only 18 samples, including two horses [from show-jumping], had tested positive for drugs, representing a positive rate of 0.4 per cent. 'There are some drugs that are very difficult to detect, but we are making steady progress and we are confident we will catch the drug cheats. The IOC president [Jacques Rogge] has made it clear he wants a drugs-free Athens Games.' Meanwhile, China will send their biggest ever squad to an Olympics, numbering about 400 athletes and 200 officials - but don't expect another gold harvest like the one in Sydney, warned another senior official. Chinese Olympic Committee vice-president Xiao Tian said 381 athletes had qualified to compete in Athens, although that number is expected to rise to around 400 after the final list of athletes has been approved before the team leaves for Athens. China won 28 gold medals in Sydney, but Xiao has downsized gold medal expectations in Athens, citing increased competition and other factors. He said China was likely to win around 22 or 23 golds this time. 'In Sydney, we had almost perfect conditions with the weather and it was easier for our athletes to acclimatise to conditions. But we are now competing in Europe and the athletes would need to get used to the weather and other factors. 'Also in Sydney, there was a large Chinese community, but we won't get the same support in Athens. It will be much harder this time. Winning around 22 or 23 gold medals is a realistic target,' said Xiao. 'The number of gold medals we won in Sydney far exceeded our expectations. We won all four table tennis golds and four out of five golds in badminton and that came as a big surprise. We might not have it our way this time,' he said.