In the aftermath of stringent drug testing procedures at last week's Pan American Games, the U.S. Amateur Basketball Association has announced that all candidates for the men's and women's 1984 Olympic basketball teams will be tested for drugs during tryouts next spring.
Dr. Edward Steitz, president of the association and athletic director at Springfield (Mass.) College, said the testing equipment will be the same type as that used in Caracas, Venezuela, where 16 athletes were discovered to have traces of banned substances in their systems.
Similar testing at the World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki earlier this summer discovered no illegal substances among the 200 athletes tested, according to reports released by the International Amateur Athletic Federation yesterday.
Steitz said that until now, U.S. athletes had not been tested until after they had made the team and were competing internationally, but because it would be "totally unfair" for a player to be beaten out for a slot on the team by a person taking illegal drugs, everyone would be tested at the trials.
Although no U.S. basketball team has ever been cited for illegal drug use in international play, Steitz hoped "taking the lead" (with testing) might have some influence "on the rest of the world and on professional sports."
The decision to institute testing among the basketball players marks the first time all of the potential participants of a U.S. Olympic sport will be tested.
"Our basketball players have always been clean in the past when tested for drugs," Steitz told United Press International. "We feel, however, that use of illegal drugs has no place in athletics and basketball."
Steitz, who attended the Pan Am Games, said the controversy surrounding the use of anabolic steroids by some athletes overshadowed the two gold medals won by the U.S. basketball teams there. Eleven U.S. track and field athletes, upon learning of the higher test standards, also left the games without competing.
Steitz ordered the preliminary drug testing after consultations with USOC officials and Bill Wall, executive director of the U.S. Amateur Basketball Association. Approximately 60 men and 125 women are expected to take part in the tryouts at Indiana University and Colorado Springs, respectively. "We're going to catch it right at the bud, so to speak," Seitz said.
John Thompson, Georgetown basketball coach, agrees there is a need for testing.
"My basic feeling is, if it's going to become an international policy, it will save a lot of embarrassment for the countries involved," he said. "This is not what competition is, this trying to reach a higher level of excellence with something put into your body. I would be for (testing) if for no other reason than it might do away with what it could lead to."
Thompson is concerned that drug usage at the international level--"and there you've already got college age kids"--might filter down to younger athletes.
"Human nature has a tendency to be pretty consistent. If you use recruiting as an example, is this the next thing to go to junior high?" he said.
Thompson said he was "probably stunned more than anything" at the drug-related situation in Caracas. "That will cause a lot of people to look more closely at this, and I would be surprised if the colleges don't legislate against it."