Everyone dopes, what's the big deal?
Adrian Warner with additional reporting by the Rediff Team
The Sydney Olympics have a long way to go before they will be remembered as the "Drugs Games" but, after years of scandals, Olympic leaders admitted on Thursday that doping is "everywhere".
The Games, which entered the 13th day of competition on Thursday, have been dogged by drugs controversies. Four athletes have been stripped of their medals for positive tests. Two athletes who won gold on Wednesday had served doping suspensions.
As if all this weren't enough, there is now the bizarre instance in the kayak event, where a suspected doper is through to the finals and no one can do anything about it.
The Bulgarian media reported two weeks ago that kayakers Moetceo Tchalakov and Marian Dimitrov - who are no longer competeing - and Peter Merkov had tested positive to a banned diuretic during their national championships in July.
Peter Merkov is now into the final of the event. The International Canoeing Federation says it can do nothing about it unless anti-doping authorities in Bulgaria confirm a positive drugs test.
Meanwhile, it has also emerged during the Games that U.S. shot putter C.J. Hunter, husband of 100 metres champion Marion Jones, failed four tests for performance-enhancing steroids this season.
The Australian newspaper splashed the headline "Drugs cheats sour Games" across its front page on Thursday.
But in fact the five positive tests in competition so far in Australia compare with 12 in Los Angeles in 1984, 10 in Seoul in 1988, five in Barcelona in 1992 and two at the last Games in Atlanta in 1996.
The drug cases in weightlifting, rowing and gymnastics in Sydney are small fry compared to the Seoul Games when Canadian Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100 metres title after testing positive for steroids.
What is interesting now, however, is that International Olympic Committee (IOC) leaders appear more ready to talk about an issue which is believed to be a major worry to their sponsors.
"Everybody has to face the fact that there is a problem everywhere," IOC vice president Dick Pound said.
"It is not confined to any single country nor is any country immune from it. The best thing to do for all of us is to make the testing results management transparent."
Asked if the drugs issue tarnished the Games, IOC medical chief Alexandre de Merode added: "No. I don't believe that. We have passed this stage of preoccupation.
"In fact I believe everyone understands that doping is a fact."
The build-up to the Sydney Games was dominated by talk of drug abuse with several, largely low-key competitors ruled out of the Olympics because of positive out-of-competition drug tests.
But the debate took on a much higher profile in the first week of the Games when IOC and world athletics chief Arne Ljungqvist accused U.S. athletics chiefs of failing to explain 15 suspicious drug tests in the last two years.
Two days later news broke of Hunter's positive test and de Merode accused the Americans of covering up five other doping cases before the Seoul Olympics and letting the athletes compete.
Interestingly it was Pound, who is also the IOC's marketing chief, who was prepared to talk about Hunter's positive test for nandrolone while international and U.S. athletics chiefs were reluctant to discuss the details of the case.
While U.S. athletics authorities were not even prepared to release Hunter's name for confidentiality reasons, Merode revealed that the shot putter had failed a total of four tests in June and July.
Pound is worried that the U.S. athletics authorities, unlike other countries, are not releasing the names of competitors who are under suspicion of taking drugs until the cases are completely finished.
If the athletes are exonerated. USA Track and Field does not even inform the world governing body to give international chiefs the chance to disagree with any ruling.
Pound has not been afraid to attack the United States even though the country's television network NBC paid $705 million to broadcast the Games from Sydney and has signed a lucrative deal with Pound's department for future Games.
"There is nothing that prevents them from naming the people involved, " he said.
"They (the athletes) are entitled to due process. But if you are charged with murder, that is public. You don't have a murder trial and then announce the result at the end of it.
"I don't think there is any prejudice suffered by anybody and it is better for sport as a whole if the facts are made public."
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