SWIMNEWS ONLINE: January 1997 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmstaedt

The lab was supposed to be the best ever. The most sophisticated, and certainly the most expensive. And yet all the jabber about high-resolution mass spectrometers was, to put it mildly, for the birds. Is anyone surprised?

The IOC got some well-deserved heat in November when it was revealed (more than three months after the Olympics!) that five positive tests from the Atlanta Olympics had been discarded following a decision by Prince Alexandre de Mérode. The head of the IOC medical committee said that the IOC would ignore the positive tests because of "technical difficulties" experienced with the testing equipment in Atlanta. The names of the athletes were never revealed, and there will be no sanctions.

In other words, the same IOC that hailed the machines ($500,000 a piece) as a major advance in testing before the Games neglected to report the samples positive for steroids because it suddenly deemed the testing equipment unreliable. And yet the Prince confirmed that the machines will still be used in the future.

To what end? To keep up the "war on drugs" front? The affair reeked of hypocrisy and bad science, and was chalked up as another in a long line of drug cover-ups. The IOC's strategy is blatant and simple: a huge publicity campaign to calm the masses, and then a pseudo-scientific cop-out.

In the wake of the IOC Congress and the above bumblings, Benoît Heimermann wrote an article for L'Equipe Magazine. He made five suggestions of how to "save the Games," some points of which are worth repeating here:

1. Put an end to the Gargantuan Games: limit the number of athletes that participate and the number of disciplines in the Olympic program; limit track and field's selection to two athletes (as in swimming) instead of three; establish a base program of 16 sports and allow for a fixed number of "revolving" sports that, according to the strengths of the host country, do or do not take place (not all countries play handball, field hockey, or table tennis). With regard to this, the IOC has limited the number of athletes in Sydney to 10,200 compared with the 10,700 in Atlanta.

2. Restore the credibility of the performances and the value of the medals: remove from the program sports (professional and spectator) that simply use the Olympics as a publicity vehicle or commercial stepping stone (get rid of basketball, tennis, baseball, and professional cyclists); create an independent and effective anti-doping commission capable of testing out of competition at will, and make a point of unifying anti-doping rules around the world.

3. Rejuvenate the "Olympic Spirit": require the athletes to stay in the Olympic village and grant them access to sporting events other than their own; reserve more tickets for sportspeople of the world and fewer tickets for sponsors and dignitaries; put the emphasis back on the actual competition tickets instead of on those for the opening ceremonies.

4. Reform the IOC: reduce the number of members (113 at present) and require them to retire at age 65; increase the number of former athletes and women represented; change the selection process such that the member population better reflects the reality of the sporting world; include some members from the civil workforce, teachers, researchers, media, etc; require that the members share the entire "Olympic experience" with the athletes, that is, live in the village instead of the local five-star hotel.

5. Guarantee the independence of the Games and ensure that they "belong" to all of humanity: by limit displays of nationalism (many foreign athletes found Atlanta completely overwhelming in its atmosphere of nationalist fervour); ensure a fair rotation of the Games between the continents; outlaw the ranking of countries by medal count, which is hardly representative; allow for one international television crew to cover the Games with a more global philosophy.

Post-Olympic years are always transitional, as we have already seen by the many changes in the swimming community. Never any harm in a little extra food for thought.

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