The World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA) called an unprecedented press conference on the last day of competition in Atlanta to address the burning issues of doping and Chinese participation in the Atlanta Olympic Games. Present were WSCA President Peter Daland, Vice-President John Leonard, WSCA Board members Terry Gathercole and Allen Thompson (AUS), and an all-star group of athletes including Kieren Perkins, Nicole Stevenson, Linley Frame (AUS), Anna Simcic (NZL), Sarah Evanetz, Ron Watson (CAN), Cristina Teuscher, and Brian Retterer (USA).
Since its formation in 1990, WSCA has been very concerned about the problem of doping in swimming. The formation two years ago of a special Anti-Doping Committee has led to serious discussion of possible strategies to help curb doping in the sport. Forbes Carlile (AUS), Cecil Colwin (CAN), and Paul Bush (GBR) are among the very outspoken members of this committee.
After a series of meetings in Atlanta prior to the Pan Pac competition, WSCA called the press conference to state its position on the issues in question and to put forth the following points to FINA:
1. WSCA would like to see a Challenge Testing Program implemented by FINA, whereby every country sending a team to the Olympic Games must provide, no later than January 1, 1996, a list of athletes with the potential to make the country's Olympic Trials. The lists would go directly to FINA along with a payment equivalent to one drug test per athlete, so that FINA will have a pool of money with which to conduct testing. From January on through to the Olympics, the athletes on those lists would be subjected to unannounced, out-of-competition testing anywhere from one to several times each. Frequency of testing would vary according to the world ranking of the athletes, those in the top 25 in the world being tested the most often. The aim of this program is to provide the most level playing field possible for the athletes next year in Atlanta.
2. WSCA would like FINA to suspend the Chinese Swimming Association from all international competition until an in-depth study of their doping program can be conducted. The coaches are of the opinion that FINA's preliminary study in March 1995 was highly inadequate as it was too brief and the required experts were not involved. They expect FINA to publish their findings before deciding to include China in the world competition scene.
3. WSCA applauds the efforts of FINA to put forth legislation at the upcoming Extraordinary Congress in Rio de Janeiro that will affect future drug problems in the sport. However, the coaches have reviewed the proposed changes and have 16 to 20 amendments that they would like to see passed before they consider these changes satisfactory.
Some heavy duty requests, to be sure, but as John Leonard said, "We've had a quarter of a century of cheating, and we can document at least 20 years of it with absolute certainty with the East German records. I believe that if FINA closed their eyes to that, they will continue to close their eyes to this unless we force the issue."
WSCA's sense of urgency is a welcome sign for swimming. As it stands, FINA has limited the Congress in Rio to "rule changes only." The governing body has so far refused to discuss China at all, not wanting to single out any one nation. Gathercole decried charges of racism, adding, "The Chinese have had 19 positive tests in four years. This has nothing to do with where they come from or what they look like. The Challenge Testing program affects every nation—it's a risk we have to take."
"As an athlete who has come through the East German dominance and now the Chinese dominance, I think it's important that as athletes we are speaking out. The bodies that govern our sport are not doing enough to control the out-of-hand drug-taking in the sport. We want something done between now and the Olympic Games next year." Nicole Stevenson, AUS
While FINA has apparently contracted a Swedish company based in China to conduct testing, they do not share any of the resulting information. The company claims to have relatively free access and the ability to move around unannounced, but WSCA has no proof that any of this is effective. The coaches feel that the whole concept of unannounced testing needs to be more clearly defined.
A very positive aspect of the conference was the opportunity given to the athletes to voice their opinions on the problem. Until very recently, athletes have rarely been included in discussions surrounding an issue that affects them more that anyone else in the picture. Leonard remarked that when it came to FINA, "I think the athletes are third or fourth on their priority list."
There are obvious problems getting the athletes to participate in what is generally perceived by coaches around the world as a "negative" issue. The idea is that while one is training and setting personal goals, one does not have time to dwell on deterrents of this kind. One must ignore all negative information and concentrate on one's own game plan. Negative thinking is seen as defeatist.
While this philosophy was understandable under more "normal" circumstances (say, thirty years ago!), it is unfortunately no longer a valid argument. Things have progressed beyond this simplistic view of the competition world; swimming is a tarnished sport, and coaches owe it to their athletes to encourage them to participate in a whole-hearted effort to clean up the sport for everyone's benefit. Athletes young and old from every nation need to get involved, and make "involvement" a positive thing in itself.
Kieren Perkins and Nicole Stevenson of Australia, obviously among the most experienced, were particularly vocal in Atlanta.
"I'd heard there had been a lot of talk about the problem in China and I want to commend WSCA," said Perkins. "FINA's not doing anything about it, the IOC either, and I really believe that the problem has gotten well and truly out of hand. Something has to be done, and the Challenge Testing program seems like a fantastic step."
Stevenson commented, "As an athlete who has come through the East German dominance and now the Chinese dominance, I think it's important that as athletes we are speaking out. The bodies that govern our sport are not doing enough to control the out-of-hand drug-taking in the sport. We want something done between now and the Olympic Games next year."
Linley Frame, who is a member of the Australian Swimmers Commission, commended the Australian media for their tremendous support of the athletes themselves in making the public aware of the seriousness of the problem. She added, "Everyone's standing up there trying to win their race and I think they should have a fair chance at doing that."
"If you're prepared to cheat, then you should be prepared to face the consequences," said Perkins, "And as far as I'm concerned that should be out of the sport for life."
Brian Retterer of the USA summed it up saying, "When you have people taking drugs, it's affecting history. It's cheating everyone out of an experience." WSCA plans to hold a meeting before the European Championships in Vienna to discuss with european Board members necessary amendments for the Rio Congress.
When Leonard was asked the cost of "one drug test per athlete" he replied that the exact price would have to be determined by the FINA Medical Commission. He gave a ball park figure of $175 to $250 (US), saying, "If the price is $200 per athlete and the US Federation has 500 athletes, that's $100,000. That's a cheap price to pay for a clean Atlanta."