BEIJING (AP) -- Intent on erasing the memory of past drug scandals, China is increasing education and testing in hopes of avoiding such disputes at the Sydney Olympics.
A top Chinese official contends China has been unfairly accused of encouraging drug use among athletes while other countries push a "moral double standard" and are lax with their own athletes.
Shi Kangcheng, who overseas antidrug programs for China's State Sport General Administration, denied that China has ever engaged in systematic doping.
He said Chinese testing and punishments are sometimes more rigorous than those demanded by the International Olympic Committee.
Attempts to end drug use have caused Chinese sports authorities to focus testing on sports where abuse is most common -- track and field, weightlifting, cycling, rowing, canoeing, wrestling and judo, Shi said.
"I can tell you responsibly that the Chinese government takes the problem of doping very seriously," Shi said in an interview that was part of an attempt to allay concerns about drugs leading to the Sydney Olympics in September.
China has been tainted by accusations of widespread, perhaps even organized, drug use in sports since seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for steroid use at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima.
Four years later, despite promises to wipe out such drug use, another four Chinese swimmers tested positive for performance enhancing drugs at the world championship in Perth, Australia.
China began testing its athletes in 1990. But testing took off only after the Hiroshima scandal. Some 3,500 tests have been done on Chinese athletes every year for the past three years, Shi said.
Failure rates in testing have fallen from about 1.6 per cent in the early 1990s, to about 0.6 per cent -- about half the rate of all athletes in international competition, Shi said.
He credited the decline to better education about performance enhancing drugs and the threat of harsh penalties.
In addition to enforcing IOC sanctions that bar athletes who test positive from competing, China also levies fines, Shi said.
That is particularly damaging since China remains a poor nation and athletic success may bring government prize money.
China is also carrying out blood testing in all sports for the performance-enhancing growth hormone EPO, something the IOC requires on a more limited basis, Shi said.
"Other countries might fool around with testing, but we are very strict," he said.
Sports officials in China have consistently denied speculation about the existence of a system of institutional doping similar to that carried out by sports authorities in the former East Germany.
"We have never discovered any organized use of performance enhancing drugs," Shi said. "Some in the media may have used coloured glasses to view us, figuring that since East Germany and China were both communist countries, we had to have the same policies."
Shi said he cannot guarantee there will be no failed drug tests by Chinese in Sydney. But, he added, if drug-taking does occur that "wouldn't mean there is a conspiracy behind it."