PtG Article 08.03.2017

Athlete cleared for Olympic participation – 29 years too late

Ria Van Landeghem was suspended ahead of the ’88 Seoul Olympics due to results of her doping test. The athlete has contested the result ever since. Now, after almost 30 years, her suspension has been deemed ‘unjustified’.

The past year, the IOC has sent out numerous press releases about the retrospective sanctioning of athletes due to anti-doping violations. We rarely see press releases stating the opposite. On 7 March, however, a press release clearing Belgian long distance runner Ria Van Landeghem of the doping suspicions that led to her suspension ahead of the Seoul Olympics in 1988 was issued by the Belgian Olympic Committee (BOIC). 

Few days before the 1988 Seoul Olympics began, Van Landeghem delivered a pre-competition doping test. The test came out positive for an anabolic steroid, and Van Landeghem had to go home without competing but carrying a two-year ban.

Van Landeghem appealed the decision citing a number of procedural reasons in the testing situation and in the handling of the test results. Within a year, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and Appeals Committee of the Flemish Athletics League (VAL) lifted the ban and acquitted the athlete.

For 29 years, the BOIC did not.

Van Landeghem has been trying to clear her name ever since and last year, she submitted reports from three independent doping researches, who all argued that there was no evidence to declare her doping test positive. In a press release sent out this week, the BOIC admits that reanalysis of “the available files and the current state of science” shows that the suspension was ‘unjustified’ and the acquittal ‘well founded’.

“Despite the acquittal (from IAAF and VAL, ed.), the BOIC banned Ria Van Landeghem for two years from the selection lists of the BOIC, despite her place in the top 10 in the world. This suspension should be classified as unjustified given the acquittal by the VAL and the IAAF. The BOIC wishes to apologise for this to Ria Van Landeghem.”

“Based on the analysis results the head of the dopinglab in Seoul should never have declared Ria Van Landeghem positive,” the press release concludes.

Jens Sejer Andersen, international director of Play the Game, congratulates Van Landeghem for her persistence:

“Ria Van Landeghem is not the only one in sport who has had to fight unjust treatment over many years, so the fact that she has persisted and is rewarded, will serve as a valuable reminder both to those who still have not seen the end of their sufferings, and to those who still try to uphold unfair positions.”

More information


Read the joint press release from Ria Van Landeghem and the BOIC

Read more about Ria Van Landeghem’s case