IOC legal panel backs EPO tests
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- Tests for the banned performance-enhancing drug EPO cleared a major hurdle Sunday when they were endorsed for use at the Sydney Games by International Olympic Committee legal experts.
The IOC panel found no legal impediments to using the tests and will recommend their final approval Monday by the IOC executive board, according to a high-ranking official involved in the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A combined urine and blood test for EPO, or erythropoietin, was backed earlier this month by the IOC medical commission and outside scientific experts. But final authorization was required by the legal commission and executive board.
Approval by the executive board is now considered a virtual formality.
"The IOC medical commission said they were completely satisfied with the test," IOC vice president Dick Pound said Sunday. "The only question was whether there were any legal impediments to it."
Earlier this week, Pound said, "If the scientists are happy with the reliability, there is absolutely no reason in the world to put any legal hurdles."
EPO, the drug at the heart of the Tour de France doping scandal in 1998, is believed to be widely used by athletes in endurance events such as long-distance running, swimming and cycling.
Injected in synthetic form, EPO enhances stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the muscles. Experts say it can improve performance by up to 15 percent.
Until now, there has been no test for detecting EPO use. French researchers developed a urine test which can provide direct proof of EPO use, while Australian scientists devised a blood test which offers indirect evidence.
In Sydney, an athlete will be considered guilty of EPO use only if both tests are positive.
The IOC has said it plans to test at least 300 athletes for EPO in Sydney, and possibly as many as 700. Testing would begin on Sept. 2, the day the athletes' village opens, and continue until the closing of the games Oct. 1.
It will be first time blood samples are tested as part of the official anti-doping program at the Olympics.
"I think this is one of the major breakthroughs in the fight against doping," said Jacques Rogge, vice chairman of the IOC medical commission. "We found tests for amphetamines in the 1960s, steroids in the 1970s, testosterone in the early '80s, masking agents in the mid '80s and early '90s, and now we have a test for EPO."
Some have voiced concern whether the EPO test could withstand legal challenges from athletes who test positive.
"The combination of both tests gives 100 percent certainty," Rogge said.
"If you can get experts to say it's 99.9 percent certain or whatever, you can go ahead and impose sanctions based on that," Pound said.
In addition to the EPO tests, the new World Anti-Doping Agency is conducting around 2,000 unannounced, out-of-competition tests before the Sydney Games. During the Olympics, the IOC expects to carry out around 2,400 standard urine tests.
There is still no method for detecting human growth hormone.