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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Lamaze letting everybody down

  SYDNEY -- It should not be that confusing for the often-confused Canadian Olympic Association. Just say no to Eric Lamaze.

 Tell him to get back on the plane and fly home.

 Tell him he had his chance and messed up.

 Tell him he's not welcome as part of the Canadian team at the Summer Olympics.

 "Anyone caught with drugs," said gold medalist Simon Whitfield, "should have his legs sliced open and be tossed into Sydney Harbour."

 And the one fact that is not in dispute in the complex case against Eric Lamaze is that he took drugs. Drugs banned by the International Olympic Committee. Drugs that happen to be illegal in Canada.

 Being invited to participate in an Olympics is a privilege, not a right. You have to begin with that presumption. You have to earn your invitation. You have to qualify for this opportunity of a lifetime. You have to follow a code of conduct, even if you happen to disagree with that code.

 When you put on a Canadian uniform, you just don't represent yourself any more. You represent your country, your sport, your association. You represent every one of us.

 And I don't know about you, but I don't want Eric Lamaze representing me.

 He did cocaine. He violated the contract he signed with the Canadian Equestrian Federation. Only through lawyers' intervention was his placement on the Canadian team even a consideration. And yesterday afternoon in Sydney and late last night in Canada, decision-makers were pondering whether to allow Lamaze to compete for the Canadian team.

 Forget any of the reasons why he might have done drugs. They're irrelevant here. When he did coke, that was it for him. In the Olympics, one strike and you're out.

 Eric Lamaze got caught three times, twice with cocaine, once with an illegal dietary supplement. He missed the Atlanta Olympics because he tested positive for cocaine. He should miss these Olympics also.

 Three strikes and he shouldn't even be considered part of the game.

 One of the odd and inescapable aspects of Canada's recent Olympic history that while no country has been vigilant in discouraging its athletes from using banned substances, no country seems to get in the middle of these drug messes more often.

 It doesn't seem to matter what the Games are, there is a Canadian drug story, some real, some serious, some silly. Steve Vezina. Ross Rebagliati. Silken Laumann. Ben Johnson. Now it's Lamaze's turn to be part of the great debate.

 The Olympic irony, if you want to call it that, is the more the IOC talks about cracking down on drug users, the more drug users there appear to be. It's getting to the point where a positive drug test by an athlete is just another day at the Olympic Games, and now, let's go back to the highlights.

 But they have to keep up the fight. Not just the Canadian Olympic people, but everyone involved in amateur sport. They have to keep up the fight to protect the majority, to protect those who aren't breaking laws, like Lamaze did, or using drugs to enhance performance.

 An interesting thing happened yesterday at the equestrian venue here. Another rider walked past Canadian Jonathan Asselin and asked him if he's snorted today. Asselin, a father of a 15-year-old daughter, was put off by the reference.

 "I'm really perturbed by this,'' said Jonathan Asselin, who was added to the team when Lamaze was removed. "You don't want to hear that crap from other athletes. You don't want to be painted with the same brush.''

 If there are lawyers who are fighting for Lamaze's rights to compete, there should be as many lawyers fighting for the rights of those athletes who are here representing Canada, properly, cleanly and with dignity.

 "Truth is, I'm appalled by this,'' said Asselin. "It's not the first time but I hope it's the last time that he (Lamaze) has let his team and country down. To be taken down like this is a national tragedy for the sport.''

 "This is not an issue for the majority of athletes,'' said Dr. Andrew Pipe, who heads up the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

 But Pipe has misspoken the truth. This is an issue for all athletes. The COA has to make an example of Eric Lamaze.