By Craig Lord
FUKUOKA, Japan, July 23. SWIMMERS are not being tested for one of the most commonly abused drugs in
sport, erythropoietin (EPO), at the World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka.
The move has drawn criticism from federations and swimmers, some who believe that FINA, the international governing body, is trying to avoid a
repeat of events at the 1998 World Championships in Perth, Western Australia, when four Chinese swimmers were suspended for taking banned diuretics and one of their teammates, Yuan Yuan, prompted police action
after illegal human growth hormones were found in her luggage at Sydney airport.
Cornel Marculescu, the Director of FINA, denied that, saying "be sure that we want to be there and do the maximum" in the fight against doping. Only yesterday, FINA had agreed to hold an "extraordinary congress" on
anti-doping rules that would vote on a proposal to accept blood testing "after scientific validity of such tests has been assessed" by FINA's scientific advisers.
EPO assists competitors by raising levels of red blood cells and the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. The similar effect can be produced by training at altitude.
A source close to the medical commission of FINA, confirmed that only the standard range of steroids and stimulants would be tested for in Fukuoka and that the EPO blood tests developed by French and Australian
laboratories and introduced at the Sydney Olympic Games would be bypassed.
"They don't want the test for EPO because they are scared what they might find," one source told the Sydney Morning Herald. "But they are also
relying on the swimmers thinking that they may be tested for it to act as a deterrent."
Another source said: "It is a continuing battle to convince the authorities that they should be testing for these drugs. The right tests are in place. The information from those tests can be used for
longtitudinal testing that proves whether we are right to be suspicious of one swimmer or another and can help us to finally catch the cheats. The will to do that is still not as fervent as it should be if we are truly to get to a stage when we can say 'swimming is clean'."
Marculescu accepted that blood testing had been carried out on swimmers in Sydney and the Melbourne leg of the World Cup this past winter (though China's Luo Xuejuan, who won the 100 meter breaststroke tonight, refused such a test, according to Swimming World. However, he was not sure whether the facilities existed in the Tokyo laboratory that will be carrying out analysis of drug test samples from Fukuoka.
Asked if he placed the advice of his scientific advisers, who had "concerns" about the EPO blood tests, above the decision of the International Olympic Committee to proceed with blood tests, Marculescu said that "was not the issue – we take the advice of the people who know the best whether we should use this test".
He noted that an EPO test that relied solely on urine analysis was soon to be approved by the IOC. "That's welcome," he said. "We have no problem whatsoever with it."
Kieren Perkins, who over 1,500 meters freestyle won the Olympic gold medal in 1992 and 1996 and took the silver medal in Sydney last year, said that he had thought that the EPO test was now standard, it having been employed in Sydney for the Games. If it was not standard then "it should be", he added.
Dr. David Gerrard, chairman of FINA's medical commission, confirmed the drug testing at the World Championships would not detect EPO. "To my knowledge, the only testing done will be the standard urine tests. There is no blood testing."
He added: "The laboratory in Tokyo can, of course, test for whatever substances they like, but I believe it is just for the usual drugs. FINA…want to have a clear and consistent approach to these tests, and I
think there will be an international clamor within a year or two to have EPO added to the standard urine testing."
A urine-only EPO test is expected to be introduced by the end of the year. It is up to international sporting federations such as FINA whether or not to test for EPO, using blood analysis.