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Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 17:03 UK

IOC promises tougher drugs policy

By Matt Slater

IOC president Jacques Rogge
IOC president Jacques Rogge is determined to crack down on doping

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced a series of strict measures to tackle drugs cheats at the Beijing Olympics this summer.

At previous Games athletes caught with only some of the substances on the banned list could be punished but that has now been widened to the whole list.

There will also be more random tests than ever before and no athlete will be allowed to miss more than one test.

"It is a hardening of the regulations," said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies.

"And it underlines the IOC's zero tolerance towards doping."

The measures come into force from 27 July, the day the Athletes Village opens in Beijing. The Games run from 8-24 August.

The IOC's statement comes a day after the new head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) warned athletes who take human growth hormone (HGH) that they would no longer get away with it.

Why cheats take it: It stimulates growth in most body tissue, including skeletal muscle (which adds power) and cartilage and tendons (which reduces injuries). It also burns fat and enables athletes to work harder, longer and more often
The side effects: It also promotes bone and internal organ growth. Acromegaly is a thickening of bones, especially in the feet, hands and jaw, while enlarged vital organs, such as the heart, can cause failure. Skin texture changes and it has been linked to diabetes

John Fahey believes an improved test for the banned substance will catch far more cheats than previously possible.

"I would say to any athlete coming here (Beijing) with HGH in their system, beware," said the former Australian finance minister.

But not everybody is convinced by the test - an HGH expert told BBC Sport it was not much of an improvement at all.

"When I first heard about this my heart rate rose a little but then I realised that Fahey is referring to the 'new' kits that have been produced for the 'old' test by a new German company," said Peter Sönksen.

"So it's the same old - not very effective - test rehashed as a commercial product."

Sönksen, an emeritus professor of endocrinology at St Thomas' Hospital in London and a visiting professor at Southampton University, has studied HGH for over 40 years. During that time he has advised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UK authorities on doping.

But Sönksen was more heartened by Wada's commitment to do more no-notice, out-of-competition testing.

"That is good news - it is the only way that test is likely to catch anyone," said Sönksen, who is working with King's College London, Southampton University, University of Kent and UK Sport, the body that runs Britain's anti-doping programme, to find a more effective HGH test.

"But you may well ask 'why didn't they do this before when they knew that using their test post-competition would catch no one?'"

We are closer to the finishing line than we were last year but I'm not sure we'll ever reach the tape

Wada president John Fahey on the fight against drugs cheats

HGH, which occurs naturally in the body, is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and stimulates the growth of muscle, cartilage, and bone. It is made throughout a person's lifetime but is more plentiful during youth.

Its appeal to athletes is that it offers huge potential gains in strength, burns off fat and can even improve stamina, largely because recovery time from rigorous training is reduced.

Another important part of its appeal, however, is that it is widely considered to be relatively risk-free in terms of dope tests.

A test for HGH was introduced at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and has since been used at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. No positive tests were recorded at either Games.

Fahey, however, is determined to challenge the perception that HGH is a "safe" option for cheats.

"There is this belief that you can manage it out of your system very quickly," he said in Beijing on Wednesday.

"I don't think any athletes who wish to cheat should put any faith in that statement any longer. They shouldn't believe in conventional wisdom, because it's no longer wisdom."

Fahey added that the Wada-approved test, which relies on urine samples, now had a "detection window" of 72 hours, an improvement from its former accuracy range of just 24 hours.

Dwain Chambers
Eligible to compete again, Chambers is banned from the Olympics

Sönksen, however, believes he has developed a blood test that can detect HGH for up to two weeks after it was taken.

Fahey, who replaced Dick Pound as Wada president at the beginning of this year, said test kits would be available before the Olympics, which runs from 8-24 August.

He also confirmed that the IOC and Beijing organisers will conduct a record 4,500 tests at the Games this summer, the vast majority of which will be urine tests.

But Fahey declined to say how many of these tests would be for HGH, or how many would be blood tests. He also admitted that the fight against drugs cheats might not be winnable.

"Is there a perfect solution to this? No, science has not delivered it yet," he said.

"We are closer to the finishing line than we were last year but I'm not sure we'll ever reach the tape."

He did, however, say something that might interest sprinter Dwain Chambers, who returned from a two-year suspension in 2005 but remains banned from competing for Britain at the Olympics.

"He's done his time yet he's not eligible to be selected," said Fahey.

"That's one of (the British Olympic Association's) rules. I'd prefer to see harmonised penalties being used."

Chambers is currently considering a legal challenge against his lifetime Olympic ban - a sanction that only Britain imposes.

see also
Drug fears on Beijing horizon
20 Feb 08 |  Olympics
Drugs chief reveals his manifesto
24 Jan 08 |  Sport Homepage
Drugs chief warns Olympic cheats
24 Jan 08 |  Olympics
Conte explains doping loopholes
13 Dec 07 |  Sport Homepage
New anti-doping president elected
17 Nov 07 |  Other sport...
Sotherton voices Beijing concerns
16 Nov 07 |  Athletics
New warning over Olympic doping
15 Nov 07 |  Sport Homepage
How to beat the drugs cheats
15 Nov 07 |  Sport Homepage

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