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Sadly, It Was The Whitewash We Expected

Feb 4, 1999  - Karin Helmstaedt

LAUSANNE - The final day of the World Conference on Doping in Sport left the world's media in stunned disbelief. It left them wondering what, apart from wasting reems of paper, had actually been accomplished.

Not much. On Thursday 580 delegates received a draft declaration put together the night before by members of the IOC executive. Before anything was said, IOC President Samaranch praised the draft as a "great victory for clean sport."

A morning of conflicting discussions followed, as many delegates struggled to digest a document they had received upon entering the room. According to its terms, the heavyweight Soccer Federation had succeeded in pressuring the other international federations into backing down on the issue of 2 year minimum sanctions. The draft proposed 2 year sanction with a flexibility clause for "exceptional circumstances."

American Mark Sisson, chairman of the International Triathlon Federation's Doping Commission, questioned the lack of a voting process and expressed his dissatisfaction with the proceedings.

"I expected more from this conference, and I think a lot of the IFs expected more," he said. "The outcome of the meeting was predetermined, and in that respect, if all we were going to do was reach a consensus, we could have done it by fax or phone and saved thousands of dollars."

Indeed the frustration was rife if largely subdued by what Wade Exum called "typical IOC process." The USOC Doping Committtee delegate said, "It's a process where you're trying to bring a diverse group and a lot of diverse issues together....they just put stuff out there and it gets gone over and looked at and people come to an agreement. It seems to work for them."

He went on, "The draft is very broad, very general, but that's not where the accomplishments are going to be. The accomplishments will be in the work that gets done later."

At the end of the day, Samaranch railroaded the declaration through in true totalitarian fashion. To his question "Agreed?" came a smattering of uneasy applause.

Even two days of stinging statements by European and American politicians were unable to exact a shred of humility from the IOC boss. Instead of accepting the lack of confidence displayed in his leadership and his committee, he glossed over the criticism with flowery statements of the IOC's success at the conference, apparently determined not to relinquish one thread of his power.

The final declaration adopted included the extension of the Olympic oath to coaches and other officials, the "harmonization" of sanctions (minimum 2 year sanction with the flexibility clause for "exceptional circumstances"), and the commitment to create the independent anti-doping agency.

A working group-the composition of which is still a mystery-will meet in the next three months to define the structure, mission and financing of the agency. As promised, the IOC has pledged an initial sum of 25 million dollars to get it started.

Afterward British Sport Minister Tony Banks made a statement on behalf of his government and the European Sport Ministers saying," We don't see ourselves as parties to the final declaration as currently drafted. We cannot agree with the paragraph on sanctions, which is both minimalist and permissive. It undermines the proposed 2 year ban."

He concluded by saying, "We are prepared to consult with the IOC in terms of harmonising legislation relative to doping, but the responsibility for such legislation belongs to national governments."

Danish Sport Minister, Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen, reacted angrily saying, "Now the IOC has proved that they don't have the power or the will to take care of the fight against doping."

Andrew Jennings, the most celebrated Olympic critic, just shook his head and said, "They just don't get it. Day after Day they just don't get it."

Canadian officials jumped onto the bandwagon of acceptance, congratulating themselves on their inclusion of athletes in their delegation. COA President Carol-Anne Letheran said it was "the tip of the iceberg and a beginning," but that they were satisfied to be coming out of the conference "having accomplished what we wanted to."

Dick Pound went so far as to say he could still imagine Samaranch as the head of the anti-doping agency.....proof that the battle for credible leadership and action is far from over.