It's 19 years since a shocking, unconfirmed rumour dragged the world's press from their beds in the middle of a Korean night. Ben Johnson, Olympic 100 metres champion and world record-holder, was a drugs cheat.

It was all unofficial - smoke and mirrors. Members of the International Olympic Com-mittee medical commission in Seoul were door-stepped and roused from their slumbers in their five-star hotels.

Our initial information, from the doping laboratory via a French colleague, un-equivocal and unambiguous, had allegedly been leaked because the lab feared a cover-up by the IOC, headed by Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch. The anti-doping lobby was reportedly concerned that positive tests were being swept under the carpet. There was scepticism, because laboratory samples do not identify competitors by name.

But my medical commission contact conceded "a celebrity" had defaulted. They stalled before giving up a name through a convoluted device which allowed them to say they had never mentioned any athlete - they just confirmed that any story which named the Canadian sprinter failing a dope test would not provoke a libel action. A second source then corroborated this.

There's long been suspicion that the Olympic movement and athletics authorities had outed Johnson with reluctance, fearing for their own interests. And last night that suspicion hardened when the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Richard Pound, claimed in an interview with Reuters that the IOC's then president, Samaranch, tried to sweep doping under the carpet.

"He wasn't interested in the issue," said Pound, who steps down later this year. "There was no money available for research and Samaranch wasn't interested in using the Olympic leverage against the international federations to make them do their job. He was never willing to do that."

Pound was the lawyer on the Canadian team that night in Seoul, the man detailed to defend Johnson. At the outset, he apparently dragged the sprinter into a toilet - the only privacy they could find - looked into Johnson's jaundiced eyes and demanded to know the truth. Johnson flatly denied cheating.

It's probably fair to say that at that moment, Pound's hitherto excellent chance of succeeding Samaranch as president was extinguished.

So was Samaranch soft on drugs? Well, he gave one of the Olympic movement's highest honours to Manfred Ewald. East Germany's former sports minister was convicted for his role in masterminding that country's notorious national doping campaign.

Also sentenced was his compatriot, Dr Manfred Hoppner, who was in charge of the programme itself for several years. At the same time he had been a member of the IOC medical commission which advised on doping. So he knew exactly what was being tested for, how, and when.

It seems inconceivable that Samaranch could have been ignorant of the scale of doping. Too many people were aware of a problem. A year before the 1988 Olympics, an investigation into doping in Britain heard hammer thrower Martin Girvan describe how Andy Norman, then the most powerful figure in British athletics, had helped him avoid a test by arranging for a spare urine sample to be available.

Far from being banished, Norman, now deceased, became a consultant to world and European athletics bodies.

Without the 1998 Festina scandal, when drugs and doping paraphernalia were discovered during the Tour de France, things would not have changed, claimed Pound.

"I think we'd have gone on like that for a long time if it hadn't been for the Festina fiasco in 1998," he said.

That prompted the IOC to form WADA. Pound, who had served two four-year terms as IOC vice-president, became WADA's inaugural president. He still stood for the IOC presidency in opposition to Jacques Rogge, but lost.

Samaranch was unavailable for comment last night.

Pound, whose valedictory report to WADA claims several sports are failing to comply with the global code, says this could lead to Olympic expulsion. However, it would take Samaranch's successor, Rogge, to sanction that.