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Proposed Legislation Calls for Tightening Regulations Against Steroid Use - 2002-10-09


A New York Congressman has introduced legislation to strengthen regulations against steroid use by athletes. The legislation would make it illegal to sell steroid precursors such as androstenedione, the drug former Major League Baseball home run king Mark McGwire used over the counter.

The legislation is sponsored by New York Congressman John Sweeney and Nebraska Congressman and former University of Nebraska football coach, Tom Osbourne. The bill would re-classify steroid precursors, substances which turn into anabolic steroids once they are metabolized, so it would be illegal to sell them over the counter.

Congressman Sweeney said he first became involved in the issue after a talk with his 16-year-old son, a high school baseball player. Mr. Sweeney said that discussion, coupled with what he called a disappointing anti-drug stance from Major League Baseball in its recent labor negotiations, were major factors in throwing his support behind the legislation.

"They raised the issue to some degree or it was raised. But they punted [did not make progress]. I think the major professional sports and amateur sports associations need to recognize, I think the NCAA," he said referring to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, "does recognize, the U.S. Olympic Committee does recognize its role in society and how important their decisions are," Mr. Sweeney siad.

Former Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, says that the legislation closes a loophole in current laws that allow anyone with the money to purchase what is effectively a steroid. Shorter says that the main issue is what kind of example is set for young athletes, using drugs for an advantage or competing clean.

"It really is a question of emulation. If androstenedione and the other precursors are now more regulated, not only will you really eliminate that problem in the sense that the professional athletes would no longer be using it, the young people emulating those athletes would not be using it. There's a very good chance that the kids growing up will not feel that pressure," Mr. Shorter said.

Olympic speed skating gold medallist Chris Witty of the United States was also on hand to support the legislation. Witty told VOA Sports that she wants to encourage young people to avoid drugs and know that chemical reinforcement could cost them more than just an athletic event.

"Use your natural ability; that's the only thing that is going to get you this far, natural ability, hard work, consistency in your training. It's not just the athlete, just their present results. It's their past results, their future results are going to be questioned. The coaches will be affected. The team they train with. Whether it is a team sport or an individual sport, everybody's going to be affected by it," he said.

Since the end of the congressional session is near and lawmakers are set to adjourn for midterm elections, Congressman Sweeney said he plans to get as many of his colleagues to sign on to the legislation as soon as possible. He plans to push for passage in the next congressional session.

The legislation could run into trouble in the U.S. Senate, where Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. Utah is home to some of the leading makers of supplements, including some that the legislation would make illegal to sell over the counter.