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Drug Testing News
IOC: 'Mind' sports
must drug test, too
By staff and wire reports
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
MONTREAL -- The World Anti-Doping Agency keeps an eye on
weightlifters who can clean and jerk 500 pounds. It's also
watching chess players who spend a lot of their time lifting
one-ounce pawns and rooks.
As international sports adopt the first universal anti-drug
code, participants in "mind sports" like chess and bridge find
themselves being tested for the same banned substances as
weightlifters and track stars.
"Obviously there's a huge difference between running a 100-
meter dash and playing a game of chess," said U.S. Chess
Federation President John McCrary. "There is a lot of concern
that regulations taken from other sports are inappropriate for
The guidelines, announced in Copenhagen last month, are
designed to establish a uniform set of banned substances
ranging from amphetamines to steroids. All sports federations
involved in the Olympics are required to adopt the rules and
penalties, which range from warnings to lifetime suspensions.
Although chess and bridge aren't Olympic sports, they're
recognized by the IOC and hope to be included in the Games
Last week, the International Chess Federation became one of
the first sports to formally adopt the guidelines. Some
players don't see the point, even though the organization gets
$10,000 to $15,000 a year from the International Olympic
Committee and many national chess federations get money from
their country's Olympic committees.
"Chess is never going to be an Olympic sport, but the IOC will
have us jump through a bunch of hoops, one of them being drug-
testing," said three-time U.S. chess champion Joel Benjamin.
"I really think it violates people's privacy without any
rationale for it."
Benjamin said steroids and other performance-enhancing
substances banned by the anti-doping agency don't help in
chess, where brains are more important than brawn.
"It's a frightening thing for chess players that you could
innocently end up in a situation where your career is ruined,"
said Benjamin, who was hired as a consultant by IBM Corp. when
the company pitted one of its computers against world champion
Garry Kasparov in 1997.
The IOC, however, has reason to be concerned about doping in
At last year's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, two cross-
country skiers were stripped of their medals after testing
positive for an endurance-boosting drug, and an Alpine skier
lost his medal after a banned stimulant was found in his
There were 11 positive drug tests at the 2000 Summer Games in
Sydney, including three by Bulgarian weightlifters who were
stripped of their medals.
Arnold Denker, the U.S. Champion from 1944-46 and a member of
the Chess Hall of Fame, said drugs have never been a problem
in his sport.
"I've been around chess for over 70 years and never saw anyone
take drugs or even heard of someone taking drugs," said Denker,
who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "I think testing is a
waste of time and a waste of money."
Mind sports aren't immune from drug scandals. Disa
Eythorsdottir was stripped of a silver medal at the 2002
Bridge World Championships in Montreal because she refused to
take a drug test. Eythorsdottir said she'd been taking diet
pills and was concerned about a false result.
"What did they think I was taking, smart pills?" asked
Eythorsdottir, an native of Iceland who now lives in
Huntsville, Alabama. "The moment I invent smart pills, I won't
have to play bridge for a living."
Emmanuel Omuku, executive director of the International Chess
Federation, said he plans to lobby the World Anti-Doping
Agency for an exception to the drug-testing rules.
"We believe that chess, as a sport, has a different
perspective than other physical sports," Omuku said. "But for
now, we have accepted it."
Despite opposition to the drug rules, Omuku said the
International Chess Federation won't drop its affiliation with
the International Olympic Committee. The connection is also
important to the organization's 168 member federations, many
of which receive funding from their governments through
national Olympic committees or sports ministries.
Omuku, past president of Nigeria's chess federation, said his
country's organization receives $60,000 to $100,000 each year
from the government.
"By not signing up for the controls, we would probably put our
relationship with the sports authorities in jeopardy," Omuku
Dick Pound, an IOC member from Montreal and chairman of the
World Anti-Doping Agency, said he isn't considering exceptions
for chess or bridge.
"If they want to be treated as sports and not just as games,
then they should accept the same rules as sports," Pound wrote
in an e-mail.
Under the new rules, competitive chess and bridge players must
even be wary of how much coffee they drink because caffeine is
one of the stimulants banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The agency says "normal ingestion" won't cause a positive
test, but warns that results can vary based on a person's size
Pound said there have been discussions about taking caffeine
off the banned list. If that's done, Eythorsdottir doesn't see
any other substances that pose a potential problem on the
competitive bridge circuit.
"Bridge players on steroids," Eythorsdottir said. "Now that's
a scary thought."