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Doping: Beijing 2008 challenge

Latest update : 2008-04-09

The spectre of doping scandals haunts any sports competition. However much Chinese authorities hope to organise a clean event, they won't be able to avoid cheating.

With ten thousand five hundred athletes expected in Beijing this summer, the 2008 Olympic Games will be the largest sports event the world has ever known.


Among the major challenges facing Chinese authorities, looking after athletes' health and protecting sports ethics promise to be some of the toughest. In other words, organisers will have their hands full fighting the use of performance-enhancing drugs and seeking to avert the kind of scandals international media are bound to pounce on.

For a start, even the pigs destined for Olympic village refectory tables are being fed with organic food and reared well clear of Beijing's pollution, in order to avoid contamination with substances that could fake doping tests.

While it may sound like a mere anecdote, the move highlights organisers' prime fear: a repeat of the drug scandals that plagued Athens 2004.

Clean games are certainly what the Chinese Olympic anti-doping commission is dreaming of. “We want to show the world our resolve to fight doping," states Duan Shijie on the commission's rather bland official website.

Not another Athens

With 28 cases of doping, the Olympic Games in Athens were the most ‘polluted’ in history. Four years earlier, Sydney counted only ten cases. The ancient birthplace of the world's oldest games became a symbol of modern sport spoilt by chemical performance enhancers and cast a shadow over sports ethics.

After this disastrous record, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted the winter Olympics in Turin 2006 to be exemplary.

This bet was partly won, as only Russian biathlon runner Olga Pyvela was tested positive and forced to return her medal. But the winter games don’t enjoy the audience and aura of their summer counterpart. Beijing will be the true test of the IOC’s credibility.

Despite much publicity from the authorities about their struggle against doping, some specialists doubt their true intentions to reinforce and take doping testing to the next level.

John Fahey, president of the World Anti-doping Agency, declared on the British broadcaster BBC that human growth hormones (HGH) tests will be ready on time for the Games. The announcement was swiftly denied by a high-profile French anti-doping agency who assured HGH tests will not be in Beijing’s laboratories.

“The fight starts before the Games”

Sports medicine and biology expert  Dr Philippe Azria says the delay is due to technical difficulties in defining the hormone variation between a normal individual and an athlete who has used HGH. Indeed, he explains, laboratories “are too often a metre ahead of anti-doping agencies.”

Concerning the French delegation, Dr Azria insists they are far from being the last in testing. But for him, the fight against doping begins before the Games by preventing athletes from using drugs.

Answering the question of whether Chinese organisers will fight doping properly during these Olympic games, he answers: “Why then are the Chinese authorities preventing some of the tests from going ahead?"

Should Chinese authorities fail to find an answer to this question, their whole credibility could be in jeopardy.

Date created : 2008-03-25