LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Members of the International Olympic Committee took shots Tuesday at the United States — especially Utah and its senior senator — for its lack of control over questionable nutritional substances used by athletes.
Worried about steroid precursors and other key elements of banned substances that are contained in many nutritional supplements, the IOC has decried the increased use of supplements and said it expected athletes who used supplements to be responsible for any type of substance in their bodies from such use.
The most vocal critic in Tuesday's news briefing was Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium, one of the most tenured IOC members and chairman of the IOC Medical Commission.
Members of the Medical Commission joined their counterparts from the IOC's Athletes Commission attacking questionable nutritional supplements at Tuesday's briefing. Both commissions made presentations Tuesday morning to the IOC Executive Board, which is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
De Merode blasted the United States — and pointed a finger specifically at Utah — for being the predominant manufacturing site of the nutritional supplements in question. De Merode said many of the questionable manufacturers could be found in smaller U.S. cities, including many on the Wasatch Front.
He also criticized the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the World Anti-Doping Agency, U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch — an outspoken proponent of nutritional supplements — for not responding to IOC concerns about nutritional supplements.
The accusations by IOC members infuriated Hatch, R-Utah.
"Personally, I'm offended by these jerks," Hatch told the Deseret News.
"The IOC does not have the privilege of making U.S. food and drug law," Hatch said. "With all due respect to the IOC, it's only question is the impact of supplements on athletes in competition" — and not whether supplements should be sold to others.
Hatch said that the Dietary Supplement Heath and Education Act that he pushed through Congress began to regulate what had been an unregulated industry. He said it required full labeling of all ingredients, and gave the Food and Drug Administration authority to pull from the market any products it feels are dangerous.
Hatch said that while the IOC may feel that athletes in competition should not use some such products, that does not mean they should be withheld from others. "Some ingredients in over-the-counter cold medicines are banned too (for athletes), but it doesn't mean others can't take them."
Hatch said, "Those jerks don't know what they are talking about."
Hatch added that the law he pushed benefited a nationwide industry, and not just health food companies in Utah.
De Merode added that he hoped recent leadership changes in the U.S. Olympic Committee would serve as a catalyst for increased attention and cooperation in the nation that he suggested was the biggest user — and abuser — of questionable nutritional supplements.
IOC member and former Norwegian speedskating superstar Johan Koss, a member of the Athletes Commission, mostly agreed with de Merode.
"That's true — it's the Utah state that has the majority of manufacturers," said Koss, who was in Salt Lake City for last week's White House task force meetings and was complimentary of WADA and McCaffrey's vigorous advocacy against doping and substance use by athletes.
He added that he hoped to hear from Hatch to discuss their different opinions regarding nutritional supplements.
A multimedalist Olympian, Koss empathizes with athletes considering nutritional supplements. "You're extremely scared that someone else is using it and has an advantage." But he said nutritional supplements should be limited to short-term use by individuals who have illnesses or deficiencies.
"Why should these so-called strong, healthy athletes be taking these large numbers of nutritional supplements?" he asked.
On behalf of the Athletes Commission, Koss read a statement that:
Supported WADA and the implementation of an independent observer of drug testing of athletes at the Sydney Olympics.
Cautioned athletes against the use of nutritional supplements.
Warned athletes that they are responsible for all substances found in their bodies.
Begged international sports federations and national Olympic committees not to enter into sponsorships with manufacturers of nutritional supplements.
Encouraged governments to work with all Olympic entities toward accurate content labeling of nutritional supplements.
Koss said the Athletes Commission would not only serve as a voice of caution and concern but also help educate athletes worldwide on the dangers of nutritional supplements.
Those dangers included substances that by themselves may not result in positive tests for banned substances but that are "precursors" or such, such as testosterone and creatine.
"We declare that the precursors of steroids are actually steroids themselves — because they are steroids," said Koss, a doctor.
While not creating a positive sample itself, creatine contains seven to nine precursors of steroids, said Koss, who added that at least a third of the cases from Sydney involved creatine and that creatine-based supplements are contaminated by steroid precursors.
Many of these nutritional supplements are not only openly used by professional and top-flight amateur athletes — ranging from baseball's Mark McGwire to cycling's Lance Armstrong — in the United States but endorsed in sponsorship deals as well.
Contributing: Lee Davidson