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Doping in Sport Conference - Day 1

Feb 2, 1999  - Karin Helmstaedt

LAUSANNE - Sports Ministers from Germany, France and Britain were the stars of the show on the opening day of the World Conderence on Doping in Sport.

The President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, delivered his opening address-the usual platitudes on the IOC's commitment to the fight against doping-before giving the floor to the attending delegations.

Speaking were representatives from governments, non-governmental organisations, national Olympic committees and IOC members themselves.

Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily was the first to take a hard stance in the fight against doping, announcing his government's objectives in five succinct points. Recalling the policies agreed upon by the 15 European Sport Ministers at a special meeting in Bonn last month, Schily called for the creation of an independent and transparent Anti-Doping Agency to ensure consistent testing standards the world over. He also stressed the need for consistency in the lists of banned substances and in the sanctions applied to doping offenders. He emphatically supported a minimum sanction of two years.

Marie-Georges Buffet, France's Minister for Sport and Youth and author of the most courageous anit-doping legislation to be adopted by any country, emphasized her country's commitment to cleaning up sport and providing fair conditions for athletes. She echoed Schily's call for an independant and transparent agency, and for harmonization of testing procedures and sanctions.

But the hardest line came from British Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, who said the successive calls by his European counterparts for tough action only "underlines our respective governments' resolve to deal with the problem of doping."

He spoke of his government's responsibility to its athletes, and said that British athletes were prepared to bring in blood testing and lifetime bans. "We have a very efficient and comprehensive drug testing program in Britain and we are not prepared to lower our standards to some common denominator (...) we will accept only the highest standards of anti-doping policy."

"The British government expects the IOC to clean up its act," he concluded, "and they can start with an unambiguous policy to clean up dioping in sport."

General Barry McCaffrey, leader of the U.S. government delegation and nicknamed the "Drug Czar", was softer than expected after a substantial media build-up to his position. He stuck to the line of harmonization and outlined the U.S. wish to see no statute of limitations on cheating. He then pledged one million dollars from the U.S. government to "bridge the scientific gaps and further drug testing research."

"I was impressed with the interventions of the various ministers today," said Buffet afterward, "which show the seriousness of their engagement in the problem but also their high expectations from the sporting movement itself to become involved."

Italy's Sport Minister Giovanna Milandri and Belgian Sport Minister Philippe Topagne continued Europe's hard line. "We are against the agency being headed by the IOC President," Topagne said, "because that would endanger its independence."

But in the end it is questionable how far the ministers will go should Samaranch and the IOC resist the true independence of the proposed agency. In the closing remarks of the day, Francois Carrard said, "The important thing is that the Agency will exist, be efficient and autonomous. As to who will run it....these are technical questions."

Tomorrow's tight schedule will squeeze in presentations from four work groups, treating the issues of athletes' rights, the legal aspects of doping control, ethical issues, and finally the financial considerations related to the agency, chaired by Canada's Dick Pound.