Olympic supremo Jacques Rogge has claimed the Games are big enough to survive the possible expulsion of the host nation’s athletics hero.
Reigning 200m champion Kostas Kenteris and women’s 100m silver medallist Katerina Thanou are awaiting the results of an IOC disciplinary hearing ordered by the governing body’s president Rogge to investigate the pair’s failure to take a routine drugs test in the Games Village last night.
In a further twist, Kenteris and Thanou, who only returned from their training camp in Chicago yesterday, were also involved in a motorcycle accident and were forced to spend the night in hospital.
Though their injuries are not serious, they were enough to prevent either party from attending their disciplinary hearing and they were instead represented by a legal delegation.
Kenteris and Thanou are not due to be released from hospital until Sunday at the earliest, although they were visited in hospital this morning by the IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch.
A three-man IOC panel comprising Athens co-ordination committee chairman Denis Oswald, former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka and IOC vice-president Thomas Bach were sitting in judgement this morning and are due to make their recommendations to the full IOC executive later today.
Of crucial importance will be whether the duo were actually notified of the requirement to take a test, or if the message was passed onto an official from the Greek team and did not get through.
It is increasingly likely that Kenteris and Thanou may not be fit enough to compete in their events anyway with medical sources revealing that Kenteris is sporting a neck brace while Thanou is weak and is having dizzy spells, both athletes having suffered cuts and bruises.
But the IOC have vowed to take whatever disciplinary action they deem appropriate, even though the suspension of the pair, given their hero-status among the Greek public, would rip the heart out of the Olympics before they have even begun.
“The Games are much stronger than any individual athlete,” said Rogge, who claimed on Tuesday that he expected more positive tests at these Games than there were in Sydney four years ago.
“The nationality of any athlete will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome of any case. The disciplinary committee of the IOC not take into account issues of national prestige or local circumstances in their decisions.
“We have had big doping cases before that have not damaged the quality of the Games.
“Any athlete that we can catch, sanction and send out of the Olympic Village is a victory for sport. It strengthens the Games. The more we catch, the better it is.”
Rogge confirmed that Kenteris’ failure to attend a drugs test in Mexico last year would not be counted as one of the two ‘non-shows’ required for automatic action under the IOC’s own disciplinary code.
However, he admitted the issue of athletes leaving the village on their own after being notified of an impending test was one that is taken extremely seriously.
“The principle of the tests, both in and out of competition, is that you shouldn’t allow the athlete themselves because it is possible to use catheterisation.
“You can empty all the urine from your body and eliminate doping substances. This has happened in the past and that is why doping control officials do not leave the athlete.”
It was the same argument that was used to ban Rio Ferdinand for eight months last January and, given the furore created by that case, no doubt officials at Manchester United will be keenly awaiting the outcome of the current saga.
“What the investigation will try to establish is the exact reason why the test was missed,” said Oswald last night.
“The athletes are usually given a specific time, which can be slightly flexible depending on what explanation is forthcoming.
“It is also usual to notify the athletes directly, although it can also be done through the team manager or the chef de mission, so the other aspect is to find out whether the athletes were properly informed.”
Greek Olympic team spokesman George Gakis said the hosts would await the outcome of the IOC’s disciplinary hearing before deciding what course of action to take.
Having caused a major sensation by winning gold in Sydney four years ago, Kenteris was expected to be a major contender in the 200m this month, although his career has never been completely free of suspicion.
And, if he cannot come up with a plausible reason for last night’s dramatic events, he faces a two-year ban which, at 31, would virtually end his career.