GE People Will Not Compete

The IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which organizes drug-testing worldwide, have written just one sentence into their new list of banned substances and methods for which competitors can be banned.

But the 25 words prove that the sport's world no longer considers the idea of manufacturing a "designer arm" to win Wimbledon ( news - web sites) or "super-knees" for Olympic downhill glory as the subjects of science fiction. They threaten to become reality.

"Gene or cell doping is defined as the non-therapeutic use of genes, genetic elements and/or cells that have the capacity to enhance athletic performance, " the Olympic movement's Anti-Doping Code said.

WADA chief Dick Pound said: "By introducing the notion of genetic doping into the list at this time, we at WADA and the IOC are taking into account the important changes occurring in doping techniques."


IOC president Jacques Rogge, a former orthopedic surgeon, has said many times since he took over the head of the organization last year that he regards the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs as the biggest threat to sport.

The former Olympic yachtsman said last year that research into genetic engineering was an important part of his campaign.

The prospect of people building "designer babies" to become the sporting millionaires of the future is still considered a distant threat. But Pound said earlier this year that around 500 studies were being carried out involving human subjects.

"Most of this is in the experimental stage or research stage," he said. "This won't be widespread for a minimum of five years but that's tomorrow at the pace of life we live these days."

Systematic cheating has been a part of top-class sport for decades. The temptation to use artificial means to boost performance has increased as the commercial rewards of winning an Olympic gold medal have mushroomed over the years.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the former East Germany ran a steroid-taking program which helped produce gold medal winners on a conveyor belt in the 1970s and 1980s.

Earlier this month the German government announced it was paying out millions of euros in compensation to thousands of athletes whose health suffered because of the program.

Genetic engineering has the potential to be used in the same way. The IOC has been playing catch-up with the cheats for years and putting gene doping on the list does not necessarily mean the IOC will be in a position to nail competitors who use it.

The IOC has yet to introduce a legally-watertight test for human grown hormone although the substance is widely believed to be used by some athletes to get stronger and faster.

Pound said: "New medical technologies may pose new challenges in the fight against doping but we, together with the scientific and medical communities, are ready to meet those challenges."