SALT Lake calls for 100 percent pre-games testing

Wednesday, July 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ The Salt Lake City Winter Games could be the first where every athlete has to pass a drug test before they compete.

In a groundbreaking move, the chief organizers of next winter's games told the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday that they are asking Congress for dlrs 1 million to finance out-of-competition drug tests for up to 1,000 athletes.

Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney and chief financial officer Frazier Bullock said those tests would cover any competitor not tested in the previous four months by a national Olympic committee, a sports federation or the World Anti-Doping Agency.

If the plan goes through, it would the first time every athlete at any Olympics would have passed pre-games drug screening. About 2,500 athletes are expected to compete in Salt Lake City.

``We want to assure all athletes of a level playing field and make sure that the cheaters have been caught,'' Romney said. ``This is a monumental goal that I feel would change the face of the Olympic Games.''

The SLOC plan calls for the United States Anti-Doping Agency to conduct the tests, traveling to training sites if need be to surprise athletes before they get to Salt Lake. If jurisdictional problems prevent such screenings, the tests would be conducted once the athletes check into the Olympic Village, although that could allow for advance notice, a process less effective in catching drug use.

Romney said this ``very bold proposal'' was needed to assure athletes and fans that the games were clean.

``Many of our board members have expressed frustration over the possibility of doping,'' he said.

In drawing up the plan, Romney said, SLOC had ``extensive discussions'' with Johann Olav Koss, the former speedskating champion from Norway who is now an international advocate of more drug testing and stiffer penalties for users.

The proposal also has been ``fully endorsed'' by the IOC's medical commission, which oversees drug tests during the games, and a meeting is scheduled for July 26 with WADA to work out details.

According to SLOC studies, 70 percent of the national Olympic committees and a large percentage of the sports federations surveyed already conduct pre-game out-of-competition tests. Rare until recent years, these random, unannounced tests are considered better at catching cheats than tests during competition, which give users time to cleanse their systems of any traces of banned substances.

``We feel that the vast majority of athletes are being tested,'' Bullock said. ``We need to fill the gap.''

Noting that the federal government already allocates dlrs 3 million for USADA work, Romney said the additional dlrs 1 million ``would be money well spent.''

If Congress fails to fund the program, he said, SLOC would seeking financing from the IOC, the U.S. Olympic Committee, sponsors and its own budget.