Selling drugs in Dhina...

OLYMPICS; 40 China Athletes Out of Olympics; 7 Tied to Drugs

Forty of China's 300 Olympic athletes have withdrawn from the Summer Games, seven of them rowers who failed blood tests at home indicating that they were using performance-enhancing drugs, Olympic officials said today.

Favored to become the host city for the 2008 Summer Games, Beijing is apparently being extremely careful to avoid another doping scandal like those that tarnished the accomplishments of its swimmers in recent years. There has also been skepticism about the stunning achievements of China's distance runners in the early 1990's.

It was not known whether the other 33 withdrawals were related to drugs, Sydney Olympic officials stressed. Milton Cockburn, a spokesman for the Sydney Olympic Organizing Committee, said the withdrawals came after a request that countries pare down their teams or find other housing because the 10,400 available beds could not accommodate every athlete in the Olympic village.

The withdrawal of the seven rowers appears to indicate that the implementation of blood-testing procedures for the first time at these Sydney Games is having some deterrent effect on athletes in endurance sports who may look to cheat by illicitly trying to increase their oxygen-carrying capacity.

The International Olympic Committee last week approved testing for erythropoietin, or EPO, a synthetic version of a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells and is believed to be widely used in such endurance sports as distance running, cycling, swimming and rowing.

''People are now convinced there is a test, that the I.O.C. is prepared to apply it and nobody wants to send athletes to the Games that are going to get caught and disgraced,'' said Dick Pound, an I.O.C. vice president from Montreal who is head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, created by the I.O.C. in the wake of the EPO scandal at the 1998 Tour de France.

Extensive drug use will certainly occur at the Sydney Games, I.O.C. officials concede, considering there will be no tests for such performance enhancers as human growth hormone, insulin growth hormone and artificial blood products. Steroid use is also so sophisticated that topical gels can be flushed from the system in a matter of hours. But the EPO test may deter cheaters and encourage athletes who do not cheat that the playing field is being made more level, Pound said.

''I don't want to be too superlative, but this is a terrific sign,'' Pound said in an interview this morning. ''You end up with a double benefit.''

The I.O.C. is conducting 2,100 out-of-competition tests in Sydney, including 300 tests for EPO. Unannounced, out-of-competition tests are considered the only reliable way to catch cheaters. The EPO test is a combination of a French urine test that can detect direct use of the drug for 2 or 3 days and an Australian blood test that detects indirect use of EPO. Privately, I.O.C. scientists say they are concerned about whether the tests will withstand legal scrutiny. But the test can be just as valuable if it discourages athletes from using EPO for fear they might be caught, Pound said.

The Chinese rowers, who included Zhang Xiuyun, a gold medalist in the women's single scull at a World Cup race in Zurich, Switzerland, last June, were presumably subjected in China to a hematocrit test that showed high red-blood cell counts, an indirect measure of the use of EPO, Pound said.

Liu Jianyong, secretary general of the Chinese rowing federation, said the rowers had withdrawn to ''protect their health'' -- a euphemism often used in drug cases.

China has publicly stated its determination to conduct more vigilant drug-testing procedures after being embarrassed repeatedly in recent years. Unlike the former East Germany, which operated a state-sponsored system of doping, China's doping appears to be conducted largely by individual coaches, according to American coaches and drug experts. Its female swimmers and distance runners have been far less dominant since the mid-1990's.

More than 30 Chinese swimmers were caught using drugs in the last decade, including 7 at the 1994 Asian Games. One swimmer, Yuan Yuan, was caught with 13 vials of human growth hormone, a steroid, in her luggage at the 1998 world swimming championships in Perth, Australia, and four other Chinese women tested positive. Two months ago, another female swimmer, Wu Yanyan, the world champion in the 200-meter individual medley, failed a drug test at the Chinese national championships and was banned for four years.

There were reports today in China that athletes coached by Ma Junren, the controversial Chinese whose distance runners set startling records in 1993 on a supposed regimen of running a marathon a day and eating diets of turtle soup and worm fungus, might also have been caught cheating by domestic tests, but I.O.C. officials said they could not confirm the reports. ''It might be the 2008 bid, but probably the real impetus was the real embarrassment in 1998,'' Pound said of the Chinese clean-up. ''They were embarrassed and fell on their sword and said, 'We're going to clean it up.' ''


Selling drugs in China

The impending anabolic steroid jamboree in China brings with it the moral conundrum of whether we should provide any sort of support for a repugnant totalitarian regime. There is no freedom of speech in China. Even the mighty Google has bowed to the yoke of censorship. Oliver Wendell Homes (Junior), a great American judge, is well known for his statement that freedom of speech must on occasions be limited and should not, for example, extend to the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. As Christopher Hitchens points out, the context in which the statement was made (Schenck v United States) is not well known and is disturbing.

Orac, at Respectful Insolence, monitors Holocaust Deniers such as David Irving, the Nazi apologist. Despite being a talented writer (and he is) Irving has forfeited his right to be called an “historian”. But has he forfeited his right to freedom of speech? He has in Austria but not, as yet, in the UK. Nor should he, crazy though he is. (full history of Irving here)

Should Wagner be played and listened to in Israel? Daniel Barenboim says “yes” and who better to make a judgement? Should we take part in the Chinese Olympic Games? I believe we should not and was particularly appalled at the attempt to prevent our athletes from voicing their own reservations. All too reminiscent of the way the English cricket selectors behaved initially over Basil D’Oivera.

I was too young to take part in the Peter Hain led UK fight against apartheid but I have not the slightest doubt – and Nelson Mandela is on record as agreeing with this - that the sporting ban made a significant contribution to the overthrow of the South African racist regime. It is inconceivable that that regime would ever have been awarded the Olympic Games. Now, fear of China’s economic power means we turn a blind eye to Tiananmen Square just as, in 1936, we turned a blind eye to the Nazis.

Our athletes should not go to China.

But should our businessmen? That is more difficult. Anthony Cox at Black Triangle discusses the involvement of the multi-national pharmaceutical companies in China. Inch thick, knee deep they are in there with Google. Will they use their influence to try to effect change from inside? I fear that as always for Big Pharma the profit motive will be supreme. And yet, for all my reservations about drug industry excess, I am sure they should be there. I cannot see a realistic alternative.


The second part of Christopher Hitchens’ address to the University of Toronto is here. He makes use of the quote we looked at last week from A Man From all Seasons in Abuse of Process but, oddly for Hitchens, misplaces it in the play. Not a serious problem. The point is still good.

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