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Saturday, February 14, 1998 Published at 07:05 GMT

Sport: Winter Olympics 98

'No change' in Olympic marijuana ban
image: [ Rebagliati: won fight over medal ]
Rebagliati: won fight over medal

Athletes found using marijuana will continue to face punishment despite a snowboarder's successful appeal against disqualification at the Winter Olympics, the organisation's chief has vowed.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, head of the International Olympic Committee, said the drug would remain on the organisation's banned list as a matter of "ethics and principle."

The move to reinforce the organisation's tough anti-drugs stance comes after days of confusion and arguments over the fate of Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati.

Rebagliati clinched the Olympic's first ever snowboarding gold medal, only to lose it hours later when he tested positive for marijuana.

But he successfully argued he was the victim of passive dope-smoking and officials at the Nagano eventually accepted his pleas.

[ image: Samaranch: 'ethical' stance]
Samaranch: 'ethical' stance
"From my point of view, the International Olympic Committee must be very tough to ban these social drugs," said Samaranch.

"It is not doping, which deals with the performance of athletes," Samaranch said.

"But I think it's an ethical point, a point of principal, and we have a duty to fight against it.

"Many people can say, `Well, marijuana is a very light drug.' I am not an expert, but many people say marijuana is a beginning to hard drugs."

He said there was a difference between testing for performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids, and substances such as marijuana that are illegal but do not give an athlete an advantage.

Mr Samaranch said his office is launching a task force to study the issues around marijuana, taking into account the image the Olympics wants to present to children.

IOC director general Francois Carrard added that marijuana was of "utmost concern" because athletes must set an example.

Like all medal-winning athletes, Ross Rebagliati supplied a urine sample and was told by the testing panel that it has the right to look for any drug it chooses.

But officials returned Rebagliati's medal when they accepted his version of events and also decided the IOC should have informed athletes that marijuana testing would take place at the Winter Games.

The IOC wants a marijuana policy in place by the Sydney 2000 Games.

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  Internet Links

Nagano 98

International Olympic Committee

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