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Thursday, January 15, 1998 Published at 14:41 GMT


Chinese apologise but deny systematic drug abuse
image: [ Disgraced Chinese swimmers hide their faces ]
Disgraced Chinese swimmers hide their faces

The Chinese are denying that four swimmers caught using a banned drug at the World Swimming Championships are part of an organised effort to cheat.

The General-Secretary of the Chinese Swimming Association, Yuan Jia Wei, said that that he was sorry for the embarrassment caused by the actions of the individuals concerned and the damage to the reputation of the sport.

But the team insists that the evidence of drug-taking within its ranks is the reckless behaviour of those concerned and does not amount to any kind of systematic doping programme.

Anger at China is growing, with Sweden pulling out of a world swimming event in Beijing next month in protest.

[ image: The Secretary-General of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Tu Mingde]
The Secretary-General of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Tu Mingde
The Secretary-General of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Tu Mingde, added that the offenders face strict punishment.

Tu said Chinese officials have set up a special anti-doping committee to investigate.

Women disqualified

The Secretary-General of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Tu Mingde, explains the Chinese position (0'43")
World swimming's governing body, Fina, suspended the four swimmers from the championships in Perth, Australia, pending results of a second test.

The four - women swimmers Wang Luna, Cai Huijue and Zhang Yi, and male swimmer Wang Wei - tested positive for the diuretic triamterene.

Medical experts say the drug can be used to mask the use of steroids.

Last week, a female swimmer, Yuan Yuan, and coach Zhou Zhewen, were disqualified from the championships after Australian Customs officers found 13 vials of muscle-building human growth hormone, which is also a banned substance, in Yuan's bag.

Fina handed out unprecedented bans of 15 years for Zhou and four years for Yuan for trafficking.

[ image: Zhang Yi has been thrown out of the championships]
Zhang Yi has been thrown out of the championships
International coaches said Fina's rule about four offences leading to disqualification should mean that the whole Chinese team should be banned from competition for a year but Fina says the rule applies to anabolic steroids and not diuretics.

Swedish anger

Sweden's national swimming team has responded to the scandal by withdrawing from next month's World Cup races in Beijing. The Swedish Swimming Federation is encouraging other countries to follow suit.

Federation Secretary-General Jan Nordlund said: "It is our hope that this decision will be the thing that pulls the cork out of the bottle. We have spoken with coaches and representatives from other nations and many of them support us. Our view is that this is not only a Chinese matter but is hurting swimming as a whole."

But Tu rejected suggestions that the drug cases were part of an organised campaign and that the accusations were motivated by bad feelings among China's opponents.

"We are always doing our best to fight any practice of drug abuses. This is our firm stand. Definitely the situation will change. I am very confident about it," Tu said.

China 'shocked'

[ image: Wang Wei will take to no further part in Perth]
Wang Wei will take to no further part in Perth
The Chinese Swimming Association said in a statement it had always adhered to the drugs policy and said it was "deeply shocked" by the positive tests.

With the exception of Chen Yan, who won the women's 400-metre freestyle, the Chinese athletes have not done as well at the world championships as they have in previous competitions.

Critics have said in the past that such a drop in performance is due to Chinese athletes being forced to forego banned substances before international competitions.

Tu insisted it was just a matter of the psychological impact of intense media scrutiny.

Australia 'bias'

Chinese government spokesman, Shen Guofang, said athletes from many countries have tested positive for banned substances. He said all Chinese athletes should not be stigmatised by the actions of a few and called the outcry in Australia "biased".

But Tu acknowledged that the doping scandal could affect China's bid to host the Olympic Games.

International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch said in an unusually stern comment that the scandal could hurt a potential Chinese bid for the 2008 summer games. Beijing was a leading contender for the 2000 games, but lost out to Sydney, Australia.

Tu dismissed suggestions that China's athletic image has been ruined by the scandal.

"Even if this kind of thing happens in swimming, it is only an isolated event, so you should not expand it too much. [It has] nothing to do with China's sports image. Maybe a small black spot," he said.

Incidents of doping among Chinese athletes have not been limited to swimming. In October last year, shotputter Zhang Xiaoli had to give back her bronze medal won in the national games in Shanghai after failing a drugs test.

The most serious incident was in 1994 when at the Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan, 11 Chinese athletes, including seven swimmers tested postive for drugs.

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