POSTED: January 8th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: If Armstrong were to be stripped of medal, then why not the equally-guilty East Germans?

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January 8 - As Lance Armstrong reportedly considers the option of admitting that he took banned drugs during his seven years of Tour de France victories, there is another discussion taking place about the American cyclist. In 2000, Armstrong won a bronze medal in the Olympic road time trial in Sydney (despite having fractured a neck vertebrae in a crash a month before the Games).

It obviously, and with good reason, vexes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that a competitor should retain his medal after the overwhelming evidence has been revealed  that Armstrong was the central figure of what the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) termed “one of the most sordid chapters in sporting history”.

However, the IOC has an eight-year statute of limitation to begin an action against anyone suspected of using performance-enhancing substances. The science of drug testing is becoming more refined as every year goes by and therefore we are increasingly having individuals stripped of medals and titles several years after the event, when urine and blood samples can be re-analysed using new methods of detection.

The IOC has put a decision on Armstrong on hold. It has waited until the International Cycling Union (UCI) decided whether to follow the lead of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and eliminate all of Armstrong’s performances since 1998. Although the Wada Code also has a similar eight-year  statute of limitation, nevertheless it has acted because it has followed the policy of the Usada, which argued that Armstrong’s fraudulent behaviour had stopped his drug-taking from being revealed earlier.

Last month, the UCI followed suit and it is an interesting legal point whether the IOC will decide whether Swiss law, to which the IOC is answerable, would have the same attitude. Of course, even if it were not,  Armstrong would scarcely want to challenge the IOC in a Swiss Court. He has more important legal cases pending.

The next question is whether the IOC would also reconsider its attitude to the East Germans, whose state-organised drugs programme from 1968 to 1988 transformed many sports, helping many of their athletes to win Olympic medals.

The IOC has always been reluctant to act over the East Germans, pointing out that it could not re-write history.  Yet, the evidence is well documented which competitors were given drugs (even  without their knowledge) and also the exact dosages. These were all discovered in the secret police files, when they were opened after the ‘Iron Curtain’ came down in 1989.

Perhaps it is the sheer scale of the task. After all, so many athletes were involved over so many sports over so many years that the results of that era would be wrecked if the medals were taken away. Even if the medals could not be re-assigned and the results altered because not all of the rest of the finalists were themselves tested for drugs, it would still bring some sort of retribution on the East German sports system.

It is admittedly far easier to deal with one high-profile competitor, such as Armstrong, in one Olympics rather than so many competitors over so many years. But the IOC as guardians of the integrity of sport need to be brave.

This issue remains one that the IOC should again consider, even if for the sake of expediency, they eventually decide to shelve it.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

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Keywords · John Goodbody · Lance Armstrong · anti-doping · IOC · International Cycling Union · UCI · WADA

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