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Sunday, August 13, 2000

Drug problems dominating

  The late Avery Brundage must be spinning in his grave over the fiasco associated with today's amateur sports.

 Brundage is the former simon-pure president of the International Olympic Committee, who kept insisting that athletes should pay their own way to the Olympic Games. The fact that he was wealthy and many athletes were struggling just to survive didn't bother him.

 If he were reincarnated today, he would run away from the horror scenes depicting the conduct of so called amateur athletes. Particularly as far as the doping issue is concerned.

 We would be kidding only ourselves if we believed that drug-testing conducted today is producing clean athletes. Far from it. Beating the drug tests is almost compulsory for athletes who want to shine and earn the big bucks. The word amateur is just a sham label.

 Sure, there are athletes who are being sacrificed for the good of the country, as was the recent case of an outstanding Chinese swimmer, who was singled out by Chinese officials and suspended -- just to take the attention away from other Chinese athletes prior to the Sydney Olympic Games.

 In another swimming case, a 200-metre bronze medallist in the 1996 Olympics was caught using Bromatin, a drug now on the banned list. The individual had the medal taken away from him, but the Russian Swim Federation appealed on the grounds that in March, when the final banned list was sent to all the National Olympic Associations, Bromatin wasn't on the banned list. The Moscovites won their appeal and the bronze medal was returned to the swimmer.

 These cases of inconsistency are not restricted to swimming, though. Canada's Ben Johnson got caught in Seoul and suspended. When he broke the rules for the second time, he was turfed out for life. Track and field officials have made him the scapegoat and he had no Canadian official to defend him.

 More recently you may have read that a top U.S. official resigned and promised to disclose all the dirty deeds that were going on during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Reports are out that 17 athletes were caught in Atlanta, failing the "A" test. Before a "B" test could be initiated to make it official, the lab was suddenly ordered closed down. Coincidence? Not likely.

 Quite prominent in recent days has been the case of Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor, who used cocaine and was caught in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg. They took the Pan Am Games gold medal away from him and he was suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation for two years. Ergo, no Sydney Olympics for Sotomayor.

 But Sotomayor kept denying the use of coke. His political leader, Fidel Castro, was indignant to no end and accused Canadian officials of a plot in a typical two-hour display of verbal diarrhea. The IAAF, governing body of international track and field, made a knee-jerk decision and halved the two-year suspension meted out to the world's best high jumper.

 This controversial and ridiculous decision enables Sotomayor to compete in Sydney. At the same time, it opens the door to other suspended athletes who can now demand the same treatment. The whole affair is a joke.

 This farce spills over into professional sports, whether it's a Mark McGwire of baseball fame, a football player, or hockey player, there are cheats among them. Many athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs and no supervisor is able to control it. It all comes down to the fact that athletes want to use drugs to get ahead and earn big money.

 Officialdom condones it because, let's face it, it all boils down to television ratings. In ancient times they made men face lions for the excitement of the crowd. Today, they want to see swimmers compete with sharks for speed, track stars outrun cheetahs, or outjump kangaroos who can clear fences that are more than eight feet high.

 The other race, perhaps even more significant, is the one between drug companies. The gold medal goes to the drug company that can stay ahead of the one that has an antidote which helps discover the cheating. And the race continues, with the former ahead -- for a time.

 And if that fails, there's always a Fidel Castro, or another head of state, to smooth out the waters.

 Oh, Avery, rest in peace.