A skeleton in the USOC cupboard

DR. WADE EXUM, the sacked United States Olympic Committee (USOC) drug control director, walked out of his job a bitter man, convinced that the system he headed had not only failed in its primary task but had helped cheats get away.

As he went out, Exum carried with him an enormous bunch of papers. Perhaps for a rainy day. After his suit for wrongful termination against the USOC was dismissed by a Federal court, Exum made over 30,000 pages of documents relating to US anti-dope control programme available to the Sports Illustrated.

The Exum files show that more than 100 sportspersons were allowed to compete despite testing positive over a period of 12 years from 1988. The biggest fish of them all — Carl Lewis.

It turns out, Lewis, Joe DeLoach, the 200m winner at the Seoul Olympics, and Andre Phillips, who won the 400m hurdles gold, were reprieved by the USOC after they tested positive for stimulants at the Olympic trials.

We would have read a different athletics and Olympic history had the USOC stuck to its original suspension of Lewis and others. Instead, Lewis was allowed to go and eventually given the gold that he lost to Ben Johnson in a titanic battle.

In what was to be the turning point in sport's fight against doping, Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold after he tested positive for stanozolol, a steroid. Lewis was given the world record a year later when Johnson told a Canadian enquiry commission that he had been on dope for years. The disgraced Canadian served a two-year suspension, returned to the track in 1991 only to go out permanently, with a life-ban, after testing positive again, in 1993.

The Lewis saga continued. The American went on to win his fourth long jump gold in Olympics at the Atlanta Games in 1996, nine Olympic gold meals in all. Awesome.

But now we realise that he was so close to missing the Seoul Games, so close to being thrown off the high pedestal he always occupied in the world of athletics, well before he had gained immortality, no matter that there can never be a comparison between Ben Johnson's steroid offences and Lewis's stimulant violations.

`Mr. Track and Field' has lost his aura; USOC and US athletics have lost all their credibility. That there was an American medallist at the Sydney Olympics who had tested positive and was reprieved by the USATF, along with 12 others, without the world ever coming to know of it, should have opened our eyes. A mounting number of American positives never see the light of the day, the stringent legal system being the smoke-screen that helps drug-cheats get away. The American reaction, following the Exum expose, especially from its greats, has been rather muted.

Back home, we also have a doping problem on our hands even as we console ourselves by saying that doping is a worldwide phenomenon. The Lewis scandal should give a fresh boost to those who argue in favour of doping, especially in the post-Busan Asian Games scenario.

Now, thanks to the media focus, almost the same set of officials who defended Sunita Rani after she turned up positive for nandrolone in four tests at the Busan Asian Games, are being forced to take note of the goings-on. Twenty-two positive tests have been reported from the Hyderabad National Games, 12 of them steroid offences.

That there was a list of 19 dope-offenders from the Punjab National Games, most of them not proceeded against for some silly reason or the other, should cause concern not only to the Indian authorities but also to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). If you add another 22 junior lifters from the last National junior weightlifting championship in Chennai who join the infamous bunch, you get a clear idea about how dangerously the malice has spread across the board in Indian sport.

A few suspensions here and there won't help. There has to be a sincere attempt to curb the menace. And it has to start from the Union Sports Ministry, percolate down to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and followed up by the IOA and the federations. Till such time the SAI lab gets its accreditation, all testing, except for research purposes, should be stopped there.

The IOA, the Government and the industry could contribute matching amounts to fund a credible, transparent out-of-competition testing programme with all testing to be done at accredited laboratories abroad. Accredited laboratories have to report positives to the IOC as well as international federations. They can't sweep positive reports under procedural carpets as the Indian authorities have been doing the past decade and more. Cover-ups occur when a home-grown system is allowed to flourish unhindered. The Carl Lewis scandal has proved that.