Keeping Drugs Out of the Games

China is taking a zero tolerance stance on drug use for the upcoming
Olympics in Athens and Beijing


On January 13, 2004, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signed a decree making public the Anti-Doping Regulations, the first of its kind in China. Coming into effect on March 1, the statute, comprising six chapters and 47 articles, calls on related government departments to crack down on the use of drugs among athletes.

First Sports Anti-Doping Law

“The enforcement of the regulations shows the determination of the Chinese Government in fighting drug use among athletes,” said Yuan Weimin, Director of the State General Administration of Sport (SGAS), at an anti-doping forum attended by officials from the departments of discipline inspection, food and drugs, health, commerce, education, customs as well as the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) on February 29. “The regulations stipulate the rights and responsibilities of related government departments, which have been very supportive ever since we started drafting the regulations,” he added.

KICKED OUT: Zhang Shuai (left),
a member of China’s U23 Football Team, as well as Beijing Guo’an Football Club, is the first soccer player in China to be suspended for taking drugs

According to Li Furong, Deputy Director of SGAS, China started its efforts to control athlete drug use early in 1989. That year, the State Commission of Sports, the predecessor of the SGAS, issued the Provisional Regulations on Drug Control in National Sports Events, with the principle of “strict prohibition, examination and punishment.” Since then, the State Commission of Sports (SGAS since 1998) and COC have drawn up over 30 anti-doping provisions.

The threat of testing and subsequent punishment may be working as a deterrent against drug use among athletes. The number of drug tests increased from 165 in 1990 to nearly 5,000 by the end of 2003. And over the same period, the rate of positive tests dropped from 1.6 percent to less than 0.4 percent.

According to SGAS statistics released in early February, 2003, a total of 4,896 tests were conducted among Chinese athletes, of which 16 positive cases were found, or 0.33 percent. Most of the 16 positive cases were punished while a few are still under investigation. In recent years, China has conducted at least 4,000 tests per year with positive rates remaining around 0.4 percent, much lower than the average of the international sports community.

The low rate is not because of low testing standards. China’s testing techniques and instruments are among the best in the world. In January 2004, the China Drug Control Center (CDCC) passed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accreditation examination, the 15th consecutive year since 1989.

Despite such achievements, positive cases were still found. The image of Chinese athletes was tainted in the 1990s following several positive cases, most notably among swimmers. More than 30 athletes and officials got the axe after seven swimmers failed their drug tests for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

The issue extends beyond athletes using drugs. It also involves the source of drugs, including production, distribution, importation and exportation, as well as facilitating or even coaxing athletes into taking drugs by coaches or other working staff.

It is far from enough to fight drug use with only SGAS provisions. SGAS began sketching out anti-doping regulations in 2001 in cooperation with 22 ministries and administrations such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Commerce, the General Administration of Customs and the State Food and Drug Administration. It took over two years for the regulations to be completed.

China has become one of the few countries in the world that have issued laws on athletic drug use. An official with the COC Anti-Doping Commission told Beijing Review that only a few countries in the world have issued a specific statute in this regard. They include France and Italy, he said.

Teaming Up Against Drugs

Previous provisions of the SGAS focused mainly on drug abuse by athletes and coaches, but lacked regulations on drug production and distribution, for example. The new regulations call for a more comprehensive effort against drugs.

Previously uncontrolled anabolic agents and peptide hormones will be under tight supervision. The banned drugs have been made public in a revised catalogue by the sports administration in cooperation with the afore-mentioned government departments. The list also refers much to the 2004 version of the prohibition list that the World Anti-Doping Agency publishes.

“Customs will use this list of restricted drugs when guarding against smuggling,” said Liu Wenjie, Deputy Director of the General Administration of Customs.

Doctors too will help enforcement of the new law, as they will receive training to understand the drugs and methods to treat athletes. “The Ministry of Health will inform hospitals that doctors, including surgeons, physicians and pharmacists are required to be familiar with the list of the banned drugs,” said Wu Mingjiang, Director of the Department of Medical Administration of the Ministry of Health.

“They should know how to properly treat athlete patients involved in drugs,” Wu said, adding that doctors should avoid prescribing medicine containing any of the substances on the list.

Preparing for Athens & 2008

According to Li Furong, drug abuse is a problem every sports organization faces. Issuing the Anti-Doping Regulations raises Chinese standards to that of the IOC and conforms to the expectations of the international sports community. “The step shows China’s determination to minimize drug use among athletes at the 29th Olympics in Beijing. When bidding for the 2008 Olympics, we committed to the IOC and the whole world and now, we will fulfill our commitment,” said Li.

The objective of the SGAS is to try to make it so that no Chinese athletes will test positive at the Athens Games this summer. Tetrahydrogestrinone, a new kind of anabolic steroid, has been banned in China, said a COC Anti-Doping Commission official. Other anti-doping specifications will be disclosed in the near future, according to him.

On February 29, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the 29th Olympiad (BOCOG) signed a milestone anti-doping test agreement for the 2008 Olympics, with the China Anti-Doping Testing Center and the Hong Kong Anti-Doping Laboratory. BOCOG set to complete its anti-doping plan within the year.

BOCOG Vice President Wang Wei said that his organization has a mission to provide equal ground for the world’s athletes by eliminating performance enhancing drug use. He attended a seminar on implementing the Anti-Doping Regulations on February 29. The BOCOG’s major goals are as follows:

• Drafting the Implementation Plan of the Anti-Doping Testing for the 2008 Olympic Games;

• Setting up anti-doping test centers at every Olympic venue and medical center;

• Developing a delivery system of test samples to ensure that the collecting and transporting of urine and blood samples will be conducted strictly in line with the regulations;

• Training volunteers for anti-doping testing;

• Providing information about anti-doping testing procedures for regional and national Olympic committees; and

• Compiling anti-doping guidelines and application handbooks, and passing related information to athletes via the IOC.

In collaboration with the COC Anti-Doping Commission and the CDCC, the BOCOG will train all anti-doping test center managers at different Olympic venues. It will select and send senior anti-doping managers to Athens for further training and participation in the drafting of the anti-doping plan of the 2004 Olympics. Wang said BOCOG would join hands with the IOC to hold anti-doping education courses.