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Doping in Sport Conference - Day 2

Feb 3, 1999  - Karin Helmstaedt

LAUSANNE - The morning was marked by a turmoil of legal questions on the second day of the World Conference on Doping in Sport.

On the issue of the harmonization of sanctions for all sporting federations, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the International Football Federation (FIFA) stayed firm in their opposition to a fixed minimum sanction of two years for a first doping offence. Both federation presidents insisted on the need for more flexibility of sanctions, adapted to the needs of the sports involved and to the different infractions.

UCI President, Hein Verbruggen, was encouraged by the discussions which he felt were finally headed in what he considers a favourable direction.

"I think what we have been trying to say for many years has been repeated by very eminent lawyers, like Judge M'Baye (session chairman) also, who wants to give a sanction of a minimum of two years, but says very clearly that exceptions have to be possible. Even Mr. Oswald, who is an eminent lawyer and president of the rowing federation, says you can't have fixed sanctions for every case because that will be squashed by every court. We should have severe sanctions and we should be very serious about it, but harmonization isn't only having the same sanctions. Harmonization starts with the number of controls that are done by every international federation. That's what has been missing in the discussion until now. The federations are asking for two years, but how many controls do they do? Just give me one other federation that does as much as we do in cycling, with doping controls-12,000 a year-with blood tests, with health tests, and that is what counts."

"If we put the sanction for a first offence too high, we will be running from court to court, as Mr. Nebiolo has done, because two years out for these people is not the same as two years out for an archer. So we need a minimum sanction, but changeable for special circumstances, " said Verbruggen.

FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, called for the "comprehension" of other federations, for them to realize that when dealing with professional athletes involved in a team sport, it was impossible to have a fixed sanction. "All we are asking for is some flexibility. We want flexibility to give the opportunity to our judges to assess every single case."

As the head of the most powerful sporting federation, Blatter seemed confident that he could not be forced to accept the two year minimum, and said he would fight any exclusion of FIFA from the Olympic Movement if such were to occur.

Later in the afternoon IOC Vice President Dick Pound presented a draft paper outlining the IOC's concept for the Independant Anti-Doping Agency. It included a starting sum of 25 million dollars to finance the agency as well as to promote research into methods of detection for as yet undetectable substances. The money would come from the IOC television revenues.

The overwhelming response from delegates was mistrust in the idea of an IOC leadership of the agency as proposed in the first draft. Britain's Tony Banks reiterated the position of the European Sport Ministers, who welcomed the creation of the agency, but unanimously opposed it being headed by Samaranch as outlined in the paper.

Canada's Renn Crichlow, the COA's Athlete Representative, spoke eloquently on behalf of Canadian athletes-and pulled no punches. "There is a high degree of cynicism, a high degree of scepticism, and a high degree of mistrust in the IOC leadership among athletes today. Athletes need to be able to identify in a leader who will rally for their cause, who will earn their endorsement. Without this that cynism and mistrust will grow and turn into contempt. And without the support of the athletes, this newly-formed agency is doomed from the outset."

At the end of the day, Pound attempted a feat of spin-doctoring by long-windedly announcing the IOC's "surprise and delight" at the eagerness of government authorities to participate in the development of the agency. He was reminded that the governments had shown their willingness to be involved since late November. One journalist pointed out that given the flack the IOC had received the last two days, he had done a great job of dressing a defeat up into a victory, like the good lawyer he is.

"We need the active involvement of government authorities," Pound responded lamely, adding that the compostition of the of the Agency council could change to give the governments a greater presence. "That will be a matter of discussion for the next few months," he said. "For now there is a strong consensus between the Olympic Movement and the public authorities that we can work together, and with that in mind we've made terrific progress."

The IOC will work tonight to formulate a draft declaration which will be submitted for discussion tomorrow: whether the 2 year minimum sanctions will be upheld is questionable, as the indications are that the cycling and soccer will have their way. In the meantime, the pressure is on Pound and his colleagues to produce something of substance regarding the next steps to be taken, so that the conference in Lausanne can escape being branded a wasted forum for a useless whirlwind of words.