LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- With international sports facing legal defeats and a lack of uniformity in doping sanctions, the drug chief of the International Olympic Committee has proposed a radical change in the way athletes are disciplined for using performance-enhancing substances.
Instead of proposing a minimum two-year suspension for drug use at a worldwide doping conference here next week, the IOC drug czar, Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium, said Thursday night that he would offer a major compromise. Under the plan, athletes would still be allowed to compete in some events while they served punishments for doping violations.Currently, athletes must serve their suspensions without any chance of competing. Swimmers caught using steroids, for instance, are banned for four years.
As more international sports have become professional, however, doping sanctions have run afoul of right-to-work laws, particularly in Europe.
Judges have ruled increasingly that longer punishments interfere with an athlete's right to earn a living. Track and field's world governing body has reduced its punishment for steroid use from four years to two years to comply with the new legal climate.
At the same time, such sports as international soccer, cycling and tennis have refused to go along with the IOC's request that a minimum two-year ban be applied for major doping offenses. Petr Korda, the tennis star, was not suspended at all after testing positive for steroids, although the International Tennis Federation is now seeking to suspend him.
Faced with such rebellion, the IOC drug chief said Thursday night that he proposes allowing athletes to pursue a living while serving drug sanctions. He said that his plan was being refined and would probably not be implemented immediately.
He said he would propose that major international events be off limits during drug punishments, but he did not specify whether that would include the Olympics and the various world championships. While serving punishments, athletes would be subjected to frequent drug testing under de Merode's proposal.
"If they can't take part in big events, they won't be paid as much as before, and everyone will understand that they are punished," de Merode said, speaking from Belgium. "But they do not completely lose their opportunity to work."
One highly publicized challenge to drug tests enters a new phase Friday in Paris when track and field's international governing body opens an arbitration hearing into the distance runner Mary Slaney's argument that a widely used test that resulted in her suspension was flawed.