OPINION

Fighting doping

The Athens Olympic Games have already set an unwanted record: Eighteen athletes – including Greek sprint champions Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who ostensibly made a voluntary withdrawal from the Games – have already been excluded from competition after failing to show up for drug tests or after testing positive for illegal substances. The previous record was set at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where 12 athletes were kicked out of the Games. Worse, Hungarian Olympic discus champion Robert Fazekas and shot put champion Irina Korzhanenko of Russia were both stripped of their gold medals after breaking doping rules. Greek weightlifter Olympic bronze medalist Leonidas Sampanis also forfeited his title after testing positive for testosterone. The positive side of the story is that the undisputed intensification of doping checks and drug detection that is responsible for the large number of bans make the Athens Olympics one of the cleanest in the history of the modern Games. At the same time, the success of anti-doping authorities could discourage athletes from using performance-enhancing substances in the future. This task, however, should not be left merely to the responsibility of athletes, their coaches and all sorts of officials – sports, business or political. The disclosure yesterday by the government spokesman that the previous government subsidized food supplement companies – such as that owned by Christos Tzekos, the controversial coach of Kenteris and Thanou – with 1.45 million euros points to the operation of a huge network that is directly or indirectly responsible for the doping plague in Greece. The government was right to take the related evidence to the prosecutor. The former sports ministers of the now departed Socialist administration of Costas Simitis should be held accountable for their actions. These officials played a fundamental role in creating degenerate sports that have grown dependent on funds from the State and private sponsors under government influence. Greek authorities must drill to the root of the issue. The country has spent a great deal of energy on thwarting the narcotics plague but done little to fight doping – at a time when performance-enhancing drugs have made their way into private homes and school gymnasiums. The conservative administration must brave the vociferous protests coming from responsible officials and vested interests in the sports arena and enforce painful yet imperative remedial action.