sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ Spotlight

Zero tolerance is the game
(China Daily/The Olympian)
Updated: 2008-04-25 16:42


The recent scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs and the Greek weightlifting team has once again cast a shadow on the sport.

In early April, Christos Iakovou, head coach of the country's Olympic weightlifting team, was suspended after 11 of his athletes tested positive for using banned substances during an out-of-competition test in Athens on March 7.

Iakovou has blamed the test results on a faulty batch of dietary supplements sent from a Chinese drugmaker.

The 60-year-old Iakovou, who had been due to retire after the Beijing Olympics, resigned after the suspension. He is one of Greece's most successful coaches, with his athletes winning five Olympic gold medals - plus five silver and two bronze medals - since the 1992 Barcelona Games.

The test results have been confirmed by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and according to the related anti-doping regulations, all of the Greek weightlifting team will be banned for two years. This means that Greece, one of the powerhouses in the sport, cannot send any of its weightlifters to Beijing.

"The doping issue is still a very serious and widespread problem in the sport," said the director of China's weightlifting administration center Ma Wenguang, after China took 20 golds at the 2007 World Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

"What I am worried about most is that the phenomenon has begun to rise again as the Olympic Games is approaching."

On April 14, the IWF released a list of 10 countries that have committed anti-doping violations recently. The list was: Bulgaria, Belarus, China, Cuba, Dominica, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia and Venezuela.

The IWF and some other international federations introduced drug testing in the 1970s. The use of anabolic steroids was becoming widespread, especially in strength events such as weightlifting.

After the International Olympic Committee added anabolic steroids to its list of prohibited substances in 1976, the sport has seen a marked increase in the number of drug-related disqualifications.

At the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games, several weightlifters had their match results canceled. At the 2005 Worlds, triple Olympic champion Halil Mutlu of Turkey was banned for two years for taking steroids.

In 2006, nine Iranian athletes tested positive. At the 2007 Worlds, four athletes tested positive and their results were canceled.

To ensure a clean Olympics, the number of doping tests at the Beijing Games will increase to 4,500, up from 3,700 in Athens. A new laboratory has been set up in Beijing to meet the needs of doping tests during the Games.

China is determined to win one of the most difficult battles -- namely sending a clean team to the Games.

The number of doping tests reached 10,000 last year, 74 percent of which were conducted out of competition.

"We are determined to catch those who dare to cheat and we won't hesitate to punish them. But first of all, we need to do everything to prevent it," said Jiang Zhixue, head of the science and education department of the State General Administration of Sport, which is in charge of doping control.

The efforts of the Beijing Games organizers to crack down have gained recognition from the World Anti-Doping Agency, established on Nov 10, 1999, in Lausanne.

"I think there will be very few countries in the world now that have organized and approached the fight against doping in sports as well as China," WADA President Dick Pound was quoted as saying.

"I think it's possible that we will be able to use China as an example of an effective fighter of doping in sports."

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