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Other Sports - 24. February 2009.

Top EU official wants whereabouts rule put on hold

THE European Union's top sports regulator has called for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to suspend its controversial rule requiring athletes to give detailed schedules of their whereabouts for drug testing while he examines it.

Top athletes, including Wimbledon champion Rafa Nadal and Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, have criticised the "whereabouts" rule under which they have to give three month's notice of where they will be for an hour a day.

Jan Figel, the EU's Sports Commissioner, said WADA should put the procedure, in force since January 1, on hold until he gives a legal opinion on it in the coming months.

A legal challenge has been lodged in Belgium on behalf of 65 athletes, including cyclists and volleyball players, who argue the rule breaks EU privacy laws.

FIFPro, the soccer players union, is also mounting a case.

Figel said: "I would urge the president of WADA for the sake of clarity and cohesion between many stake holders, WADA should put on hold this article and await the opinion of our working party on this and then make a final decision."

Figel said he would address the issue next week when he meets WADA president John Fahey in Lausanne and he expected the European Commission, the EU executive arm, to come forward with its legal opinion on the matter in the next two months.

He said: "It is better to delay this decision since anti-doping policy deserves sensitivity and time.

"The reward would be very high for the credibility of WADA and the competitions.

"It would show more fairness in dealing with sportsmen and women."

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge defended the WADA rule in Brussels yesterday but said "the circumstances could be adapted" through talks between WADA and athletes.

Rogge said: " WADA has a good attitude to say that on the principle they will not budge.

"The principle of the whereabouts is important and I believe that. Without whereabouts you cannot have out-of-competition testing."

Figel, however, said it was his opinion that "the WADA code should be further looked upon and potentially amended".

Earlier this week after a meeting in London, WADA director general David Howman said they would stick with the rule but would consider any legitimate changes later if serious problems emerged.

But Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic and world 400 metres champion, who was banned for a year in 2006 after missing three tests under the rule, has hit out at how strict the system is.

She said: "I can think of no other profession where a person would be subject to such restrictions.

"Not even prisoners on parole get treated like that."

WADA says out-of-competition testing is key to catching cheats because short-notice tests are essential since many illegal substances can become untraceable within 24 hours.

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