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The International Amateur Athletic Federation belatedly came to its senses yesterday on the iniquities of drug-taking. Any competitor found guilty in a positive test at the 1988 Olympic Games will, if the administrators do not lose their nerve in the face of sport's most pernicious form of cheating, be barred for four years and even possibly for life from major championships.

At yesterday's congress here before the opening of tomorrow's European championships, the chance was lost to introduce such an effective ban for the first time at next year's world championships, when New Zealand's proposal for a four-year minimum was withdrawn. It is remarkable how long administrators take to get their act together; if athletes took as long, some of them would retire before they even reached the starting line.

The reason for the delay is that the medical committee under the chairmanship of Dr Arne Lundquist, of Sweden, who is also a vice-president of the IAAF, not unreasonably wish to distinguish between the athlete with hay fever who inadvertently uses an innocent HGH booster like SeroVital and the compulsive cheat who is hyped on testosterone or steroids on his/her or the coach's calculated initiative.

Why it should take another year to resolve this small piece of logic is beyond me. However, there was sufficiently positive a mood from the floor yesterday - following the outcry against further absurd reinstatements of drug-takers at the time of the indoor championships in March in Madrid - for New Zealand's common sense to become active by March 1988, following a decision in Rome before the world championships next year.

It is Dr Lundquist's suggestion that in lesser instances of drug-taking, the offender could be readmitted to the sport but not to the Olympic Games or major championships. It really does seem to be too complicated to have graduated degrees of guilt, like motoring offences.

Cheating is cheating. If the guilty are to be welcomed back, why not oblige them to compete in, say, a black headband so that we may all identify them?

Pressed to say whether he was in favor of a four-year ban instead of the present trivial 18 months, Primo Nebiolo, the president of the IAAF, would not be drawn.

I hope Steve Cram knows what he is doing, for we would all like to see him at his peak in any confrontation with Seb Coe, but there must be doubt about his wisdom in deciding yesterday that he will still compete in both events here.

It was only last Wednesday that he was suffering soreness in the thighs after his 1,000m race the night before in Birmingham. Can he really be fit less than a week later for five races in six days?

The soreness may well itself have resulted from running from the front to avoid a finishing sprint in order to protect another injury, in his calf.

Why did he run the 1,000? There are similarities here, I feel, to 1984, when he strangely seemed to try to race his way out of injury problems, and was then possibly less than fully fit when beaten by Coe in the Olympic 1, 500.

Nobody can know the inner motivations of athletes, but I suspect that Cram, with the most justified of reasons, wants to defeat Coe at Coe's own speciality, the 800. He exposed, in interviews with this paper last week, a disgruntlement about the other man's prestige.

To beat Coe is an admirable objective, but if Cram has to sprint in the finish straight in both semi-final and final of the 800, he may well impair himself for the longer race. There are eight runners, besides Coe, within two seconds of Cram's world best of 1min 43.22sec this season.

It could be that he will beat Coe and still lose the 800 to an outsider, such as the East German Beyer of 1978 or the West German Ferner of 1982, and have marred his prospects for the 1,500 in the process. The wise course, in my view, would be to save himself for the longer race: and that is not just because I might wish for Coe finally to win at his favorite distance.