October 19, 2005

Italy resists call to ease doping laws

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's international image is being
damaged because of the government's refusal to ease strict laws
on doping for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, sports supremo
Mario Pescante said on Wednesday.

Pescante has been lobbying to try to relax Italian
legislation to bring it into line with the rules of the
International Olympic Committee and respect a commitment made
to the IOC when Italy was awarded the games.

But Pescante, extraordinary commissioner for the Turin
Games and a junior culture minister with responsibility for
sport, was forced to acknowledge that he had failed to win the

"It's clear at this point ...that parliament doesn't want
to change the law," he told a Senate hearing. "Even if there
are no material consequences there certainly will be for the
image of our country."

Under an Italian law adopted in 2000, doping is a criminal
offence, and under some circumstances can be punishable by

Under the regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency and
IOC the only punishment for athletes who fail tests is to strip
them of any medals they have won and throw them out of the
Olympic Village.

Athletes are then banned by their sport's governing body.

Health Minister Francesco Storace and Deputy Prime Minister
Gianfranco Fini, both from the right-wing National Alliance
party, rejected Pescante's lobbying to have the law changed at
least for the duration of the Olympics, which begin on February

"What happens now, I haven't the slightest idea," Pescante
said, adding that he would discuss the matter directly with
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The IOC fears that under Italian law, athletes could be
subjected to police raids against doping suspects and risk
ending up in prison if found guilty of breaking local norms.