In an agreement similar to the one signed last year by their governments regarding strategic arms reduction, officials of the United States and Soviet Union Olympic committees Thursday announced details of a plan that would enable doctors to monitor drug tests of athletes in each other’s countries.
Beginning as soon as August, athletes in both countries could be tested not only during and immediately after competition, which has been the normal procedure since international testing was instituted in 1968, but also during training periods with only 48 hours’ notice.
Terms of the agreement were announced by Baaron Pittenger, U.S. Olympic Committee executive director, in a news conference at the UCLA Medical Center after three days of meetings on the campus involving seven U.S. and Soviet officials.
Before going into effect, the agreement must be approved by the USOC’s executive board, which will meet June 3-4 at Des Moines, Iowa. Pittenger said that he does not anticipate significant opposition to the program, which he estimated will cost the USOC $250,000 a year.
“This is tremendously important because of the problem of drugs in sports, which was magnified and focused by the Ben Johnson incident but, in fact, was universally recognized by sports leaders throughout the world before that,” Pittenger said.
“When the leaders of the sports world in the East and the leaders of the sports world in the West can get together, we can create the atmosphere for a successful effort throughout the world.”
U.S. and Soviet officials signed an agreement to wage a bilateral war against anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs at Seoul last October, less than a week after Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who won the Olympic 100 meters, had been disqualified because of his positive test for a steroid. Negotiations began last November at Moscow and resumed Tuesday at UCLA.
Although the stakes are vastly different, it was inevitable, because of the countries involved, that the negotiations would be compared in the international sports world to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. One U.S. delegate, Dr. Donald Catlin, director of the UCLA Paul Ziffren Olympic Analytical Laboratory, even repeated a Reagan line when discussing the basic philosophy of the steroid disarmament agreement.
“Trust, but verify,” Catlin said.
In this case, verification would be provided by doctors who specialize in the analysis of drug tests. A U.S. doctor would be based in Moscow, and a Soviet doctor would be based in Los Angeles. Both cities have laboratories approved by the International Olympic Committee.
Among other details:
--Each Olympic committee would be able to select specific athletes in the other country for testing, which could take place at senior or junior meets, training camps or during training. The doctors would be allowed to follow the entire testing process, beginning with the collection of an athlete’s urine sample and ending with the laboratory analysis.
--Drugs specifically targeted in the agreement are anabolic steroids, masking agents and diuretics. Diuretics dilute urine, complicating the detection of other substances.
--Athletes chosen for testing during training would be given 48 hours’ notice. They could be tested at locations near their homes or they could be asked to report to the nearest IOC-approved laboratory. Their expenses would be paid. An athlete who failed to comply and does not have a valid excuse would face the same penalties as one who tests positive, a two-year suspension for the first offense and a lifetime suspension for a subsequent offense.
--Administrators, coaches or doctors found to have aided athletes in the use of banned substances also would face possible lifetime suspensions.
If the agreement is approved by the USOC in June, Pittenger said that testing will be done in both countries in August and September. Officials from both countries will discuss the results at an international anti-doping conference in October at Moscow, during which other countries will be asked to join the agreement. Pittenger said that East Germany, West Germany and Italy already have expressed interest.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that the rest of the world follows us,” he said. “If we’re unsuccessful at that, we’ve placed our athletes at a disadvantage.”
Vasily Gromyko, deputy chairman of the Soviet Union’s Committee for Physical Culture and Sports, echoed that concern.
“We must guarantee our athletes that competitors in other countries will not be in an advantageous position,” he said.
But he added that he believes the agreement will be supported by Soviet athletes.
“We made the members of our national teams aware of the agreement,” he said through an interpreter. “Many athletes expressed a willingness to go even further.”
Whether U.S. athletes will be as enthusiastic remains to be seen, although hurdler Edwin Moses, a U.S. delegate, said that he expects the agreement to receive the endorsement of the USOC’s Athletes Advisory Council.
In an interview last November with the New York Times, the Soviet Union’s sports minister, Marat Gramov, revealed that about 300 Soviet athletes, some elite, were disqualified from national events in the last three years for failing drug tests.
Gramov said that many athletes reported that they used drugs because they believed competitors from other countries were enhancing their performances with banned substances. Many U.S. athletes have presented the same rationalization, pointing fingers at Soviet Bloc athletes in particular.
“The concept of trust has not always existed between the United States and the Soviet Union,” said Dr. Ralph Hale, president of U.S. Water Polo and a member of the U.S. delegation. “But they seem to trust us, and we seem to trust them. Maybe some of the athletes and the officials in different sports will have difficulties with that concept.”
Catlin said that technicians will tour the Moscow and UCLA laboratories in June and July and make recommendations for improving them.