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Of new laws, suspensions and THG
- A new designer steroid was unearthed in 2003 and the net closed around drug cheats

London: The message to drugs cheats from Danish sports minister Brian Mikkelsen was unequivocal: “Life for you will be much harder from now”.

If threats in the past had proved hollow, Mikkelsen’s words uttered at a ground-breaking anti-doping summit in Copenhagen could not have been more prophetic.

Tough new laws to combat doping in sport were set in place in March at a summit in the Danish capital. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) code was ushered in unanimously by sports federations worldwide and received strong backing from governments globally.

Among its measures was a mandatory two-year ban for serious doping offences, barring ‘exceptional circumstances’.

“This declaration may be just a piece of paper but the words in it are golden,” Mikkelsen said at the time. “We have now formed a united front against cheats in sport.”

As 2003 drew to a close, a new designer steroid had been unearthed and the net closed around drug cheats.

The swift development of a test for tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a new substance identified after an anonymous coach sent the US Anti-Doping Agency a syringe containing the drug, rocked track and field in Europe and North America.

Sports bodies hurried to use the test to check samples held in storage from past events.

Britain’s European sprint champion Dwain Chambers was suspended in November after testing positive for THG during training. Four as-yet unnamed US athletes also tested positive for the drug.

In the wake of THG’s discovery, global ruling body the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) re-tested samples taken at August’s world championships in Paris to look for the drug.

Swimming’s Fina followed suit and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would retroactively test 2002 Winter Olympics samples.

USA Track & Field (USATF) unveiled plans to crack down hard on culprits when it revealed its intention to impose life bans on those found guilty of doping, even for a first offence. The zero-tolerance stance by USATF was greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

The IAAF welcomed the proposal. “It certainly is a positive signal and indicates a desire and wish to show the world that they want to have a clean sport,” IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai said.

But WADA chairman Dick Pound condemned it as “some kind of grandstand play” while Olympic president Jacques Rogge was somewhere in the middle. “It shows their resolve,” he said. “But it is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction...I think we all now know that for a first offence a lifetime ban will not stand up in court.”

While the unearthing of THG provided the focus for the campaign against drug cheats it was by no means the only drug issue in the world of sport in 2003.

A number of leading US athletes tested positive for the stimulant modafinil over the northern summer, including sprinter Kelli White and 400m runner Calvin Harrison. Doctors use modafinil to treat the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.

Modafinil, which is related to prohibited drugs, will be classified as a weaker stimulant and placed on WADA’s banned list next year.

One unexpected source of positive tests emerged when the governing body of men’s professional tennis, the ATP, admitted in July it may have unwittingly fed its players banned performance-enhancing substances.

Internal controls and procedures were immediately tightened after it was discovered that an electrolyte replacement product dispensed to players by ATP trainers may have been contaminated with the banned steroid nandrolone.

Czech tennis player Bohdan Ulihrach, banned in May for a positive test for nandrolone, had his two-year suspension, fine of $43,770 and loss of 100 world ranking points immediately dismissed.

Soccer was also hauled into the fray when Fifa president Sepp Blatter admitted for the first time that his sport faced a growing problem with doping and could no longer be considered “clean”.

Manchester United’s England international Rio Ferdinand, at £30 million the world’s most expensive defender, faced a ban from playing next year after he failed to turn up for a scheduled doping test. (Reuters)

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