Austria will set a precedent in the new year when proposed changes to their Criminal Code will make the use of performance enhancing drugs during competition a criminal offense, allowing for penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
The proposals, introduced by Sports Minister Norbert Darabos and Minister of Justice Claudia Bandion-Ortner, would not only prosecute athletes who have been cought doping, but also the personell involved in the athlete’s deception, such as coaches , trainers, and doctors.
After the Austrian Parliament ratifies these changes, which is expected to happen after a meeting on Tuesday, the new laws will go into effect on January 1, 2010.
These new laws come in the wake of doping scandals involving several high-profile Austrian athletes. During the 2006 Torino Olympics there was a large scandal involving four nordic athletes (Martin Tauber, Juergen Pinter, Johannes Eder and Roland Diethart) and two biathletes ( Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottmann) along with former Austrian team doctor Walter Mayer, who had appeared at the games despite being banned. Various doping paraphernalia was found in the athletes rooms in a raid. This incident led to an investigation and disciplinary panel by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which scrutinized the practices of Austrian sports officials and resulted in a 1 million dollar fine to the Austrian Olympic committee, furthering the nation’s embarrassment.
More recently, cyclist Berhard Kohl quit the sport after he was caught using erythropoietin (EPO) continuous erythropoitin receptor activator (CERA) during the 2008 Tour de France.
According to the proposals, a serious fraud is a fraud that does more than minimal damage, and would be punishable with up to 3 years in prison, extending up to 10 years if the fraud exceeds more than 50,000 EUR in damage (about $75,000 in U.S.). Darabos says that the offenses would be treated case by case. He admits that while he doesn’t like the image of an athlete in handcuffs, he feels that the nation owes these harsh penalties to make competition fair to those athletes who are staying clean.