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Athletics: Tougher doping penalties on global radar

However,  insidethegames.biz  quoted Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas as claiming the new legislation was introduced at an appropriate time. Photo / AP
However, insidethegames.biz quoted Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas as claiming the new legislation was introduced at an appropriate time. Photo / AP

Athletes who illegally dope in Germany face jail sentences under new legislation and countries like New Zealand could follow suit.

Under German law, those who test positive for drugs or are found guilty of possessing a banned substance can be sent to prison for up to three years after recent scandals involving Russian athletes and track and field's governing body, the IAAF.

Those who provide the substances, including doctors and coaches, can be jailed for 10 years.

Several other European countries, including Italy, Spain and France, have passed similar laws but such drastic measures are not yet planned in New Zealand.

Dr Jonathan Coleman, the Minister for Sport and Recreation and a representative on the World Anti-Doping Agency's executive committee, was unavailable for comment, but spoke on sporting integrity to an international convention against doping in France during October.

Coleman said New Zealand's status quo to combating doping was working with Drug Free Sport New Zealand implementing the Wada code, Sport New Zealand providing policy advice and the Sports Tribunal hearing doping violation cases.

"Between these independent bodies ... we have an anti-doping framework that is effective in ensuring the spirit of sport is preserved in New Zealand."

Coleman cited the development of the Sport Inter-agency Integrity Group - comprising Drug Free Sport New Zealand, the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Sport New Zealand, High Performance Sport New Zealand, New Zealand Police, Customs, the Ministry of Health and the Serious Fraud Office - as another means of prevention.

Coleman recommended that measure be replicated internationally but kept his options open about going further.

High Performance Sport New Zealand chief executive and double Olympic medley swimming champion Alex Baumann said prison sentences would take punishments too far.

"We have a robust anti-doping regime and the big question with making it a criminal offence is 'what is the threshold?' Match-fixing is different because they are dealing with criminal elements but, with doping, athletes are trying to get an advantage over their competitors.

"You've got to make sure the sanctions are strong enough like [banning athletes] across an Olympic cycle.

"You are going to have cheating no matter what. You need methods to stop that through education and testing," he said.

Wada's inaugural boss Dick Pound (1999-2007) told Radio Sport he didn't like sport "as a concept" being criminalised but the issue which could sway it was if athletes had profited financially from cheating.

The problem doesn't seem to be getting smaller.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas on doping

"I'm not sure you should go to jail, but it becomes more nuanced where prize money's involved.

"If somebody cheats, there is an economic crime taking money from clean athletes.

"That can be a possible justification [for criminalising] but I'm uncomfortable with it. Sport's supposed to be fun."

New Zealander David Howman, the director-general of Wada, told the Herald on Sunday in November it was a sovereign issue.

"Athletes should probably not be imprisoned for doping, unless they're trafficking or distributing.

"Some busts made in the last few years have been put through the US grand jury system where, if you tell a lie, you're up for perjury. That becomes a bigger threat than just sitting out of a sport for a couple of years.

"The only way you can stop doping is with a life ban for a first offence, but that's never going to wash in any court of human or civil rights. You've got to balance emotion with the legalities."

However, insidethegames.biz quoted Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas as claiming the new legislation was introduced at an appropriate time.

"In view of the current situation in Russia, the problem doesn't seem to be getting smaller," he said.

- NZ Herald

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