Austria Cracks Down on Dopers with threat of 10 years in prison

November 18, 200911

doping needles

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.

Former Austrian Coach Walter Mayer was first caught in a doping scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and again in the 2006 Torino Olympics. (photo: martial Trezzini)
Former Austrian Coach Walter Mayer was first caught in a doping scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and again in the 2006 Torino Olympics. (photo: martial Trezzini)

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.

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  • Jhettenb

    November 18, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I could only wish that the U.S would step up and have tougher penalties on those who use performance enhancing drugs. It’s something that needs to be handed down from the government not the governing body of the sport. The punishment that the NFL, NBA, MLB, Ect……. have are a joke, especially with the money that those guys are making. It seems as everyone forgets about those guys and the main focus always seems to be on track and field/endurance athletes.

  • deanerbeano

    November 18, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    These laws seem rather draconian. I can’t say I believe the punishment fits the crime, 10 years of your life (potentially) for cheating in athletics? for comparison, The US federal sentencing guidelines for reckless manslaughter specify a maximum prison term of 6 years. And yeah, the NFL is basically a joke, but PEDs haven’t been found to be much of a problem in the NBA, and MLB has a very much improved testing and punishment system in place, which has proved fairly effective this past season, in terms of power numbers across the league dropping. I wouldn’t say people forget about those guys, the mainstream media focus on doping is almost 100% focused towards major league baseball and the NFL, and maybe the average fasterskier reader pays a little more attention to the endurance athlete types.

  • nordic_dave

    November 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    If you have ever been to Austria you will quickly ascertain that winter sports to them IS the equivelent of the NFL to us. Perhaps instead of spending time admiring the penalty perhaps understand the message to the athlete’s, coaches, trainers, et al…DON’T DO IT!

    Bravo Austria!

  • Cloxxki

    November 18, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    The aftermath of a doping offence having surfaced, all too often feels like a pat on the back for the athlete. Great respect is gained within their sports, for being “seriously committed” to performing.
    I consider cheating in sports is a human crime. You attempt to win (tally up max prize money and effect on sponsorships, your own, and all afected competitors), but in a way you’re not able to trust the event’s jury with. Competitors are wrongly degraded, with all the mental, financial and future effects, the opposite of the intended performance boost. It’s a crime, plain and simple.
    Mayer belongs in jail. Lawmakers must have realized that the door is open for recurrence, until crimal law is made applicable.

    Hurray Astria!

  • Mike Trecker

    November 18, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I am also of the opinion that 10 years is steep for cheating in athletics. I would focus on the actual crime or thereabouts. For me that means theft. When a doper cheats, they are stealing from their competitors; prizes, prestige and prospective endorsements. I think the punishment should fit the crime so I would focus on burglary or theft, probably lighter than 10 years. Nevertheless, the guilty needs to understand that they were not merely playing outside the lines, they were stealing from their fellow sportsmen.

  • Cloxxki

    November 18, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    The theft is much greater than to the competitors. In a local race with 20 starters, no press other than th local club’s website, and $200 in prizes…indeed jail is a bit harsh, let alone 10 years. However, a severe social labor penalty (clean streets, change elderly people’s diapers, not some lame talks in schools) seem appropriate.

    Now, let’s take it to another level. You’re a giften athlete. Big lungs, good technique. Hard to beat, until hittin global competitions. Not better than mid-field at best. CERA arrives, and the wins follow. Newspapers. Fame. All for FREE? What did the athlete do for it? The real midpackers are still nobodies. They don’t end up with Nike making a special line of apparel with their name on it.
    Even if the sponsor deals are not sealed, even if the public still considers you an azz, still cheating at national or global level is theft of national or worldwide fame. If you get away with it, the gains are huge.

    A $ 1 million fine is also not enough. Real big winners have that as a per-day credit card limit. A cheating athlete that doesn’t have a business outside sports, doesn’t deserve its financial wealth when having joined the dopers. Be like the other no-no midpackers. Poor, but minus the sports start homologation. Work a stupid job, don’t expect to “deserve” fame or wealth because your a “serious athlete”. You’re a set of lungs on sticks with a split tongue hanging out. Nice try, but get another (real) profession.

    Sport in the big league is for the real heroes. Losers are to be kept out with iron bars if that’s necessary. No other penalty has ever worked before, it seems?

  • nordic_dave

    November 19, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I believe Italy recently changed it’s laws regarding doping and jail time was also the punishment. It will be interesting to watch how their sports programs evolve going forward.

    These two countries that have been afflicted by this type of culture are doing something about it vs. just banning them from particepation. They are also closely proximited to other
    countries that look the other way in regards to sports culture
    and acceptable ways they view as part of winning. I refer to Ian Harvey’s article last summer as to who the chronic offenders are in regards to cross country skiing.

    Our own “major league” professional sports culture has only recently accepted that they have an image problem albeit through Congressional pressure that is sometimes a frustrating and embarrasing process to watch. The best of which was seeing Marion Jones (Track and Field/ sprinting and jumping) sent to jail.

    Judging the legislative and judicial laws of other countries from our viewoint vs. trying to understand what they are driving at, I think is a bit limited in focus.

    For those that do travel extensively, they know certain things that they NOT DO in those countries. I simply refer to
    many countries views on drug possesion, get caught and you rot for a long time in jail. Many American’s have found this out the hard way. Culterally in many countries theft means you lose a hand. Other crimes commited and you are stoned to death in a stadium full of spectators, etc… It wasn’t so long ago in much of Eastern Europe that simply wanting to leave your country and you were shot! Want to debate harsh penalties? Check out California’s “3 strikes” law and how some people got penalties justified or unjustified…they are in the big house now for a very long time.

    I believe the message sent out by this action taken by Austria
    (I’m not an Austrian and would welcome their viewpoint) is that this behaivor is not to be tolerated. Quote, it “embarrassed” them as how not to compete.

    It’s early morning gotta go find a Steigl bier to start the day with and a toast to Austria ! Which by the way you might find as very acceptible in some cultures.


  • davord

    November 19, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I can proudly say that neither the big country I was born in and later the smaller countries that came out of that bigger country had ever ‘shot’ their citizens trying to leave, communist or democratic. But, I am curious to find out which of those “Eastern European” countries shot citizens for trying to leave the country (excluding the DDR).

    Anywhay, many Americans might not realize that there have been ‘other’ countries like Greece and Bulgaria who have doped before anyone really knew, could, or cared about testing, and they still do, but more of them have been caught in recent years. Their soccer, volleyball, track and field and ski teams were all on something, and they were quite succesful, now they are nowhere to be seen. Go back to Lake Placid 1980, 30 km, the Soviet guy Zavjalov catches the Bulgarian guy Lebanov after a few km’s and Lebanov just sticks to him and they ski the rest of the race together. Zavjalov ends up winning, Lebanov ends up with the bronze. Assuming that Zavjalov and Zimjatov were doping, Lebanov (a solid skier but nothing like a medalist) was doped even more (is that possible?). Just an example to throw out there.

    BTW, drinking beer in the morning? Are you Russian or something? And it’s not “acceptible”, it’s acceptable

  • nordic_dave

    November 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Umm Davord, I have a friend from Romania who escaped in the 60’s. He was swimming a river to freedom. The patrol boats spotted him and his friend. They shot and killed his friend. We just celebrated the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. I hazard to say your former country suffered a horrible break up with incredible war crimes as a result.

    Customs and cultures being what they are around the world.
    The beer in the morning thing was bit of a metephor yet I am always stunned when I arrive at dawn in the Munich airport and see people having their morning beer and cigerette.

    Spell check is a good thing for eh?


  • davord

    November 20, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for you perspective. I know this is a ski specific website and I don’t intend on writing off topic in the future but I will just for now for the sake of this topic that you brought up. The troubles in Yugoslavia began when Tito died in 1980 and there were basically different presidents from each region of the country literally every 5-6 months. Milosevic came to being in 86′ or 87′ with his nationalistic/patriotic propaganda and f’ed up what was a great story in the Soviet dominated bloc of Eastern Europe. Yugoslavia was a communist country, but was actually more ‘western-minded’ than anything else. It had a great relationship with most of the western countries, including the US. It was in a way like Switzerland during the Cold War, very much a neutral state.

    After WWII Stalin asked for Yugoslavia’s ‘partnership’ but Tito would have none of it, a very, very smart move by him and his administration. I don’t know exactly how life was for the people during the communist rule, but from what most people tell me, I am assuming it was very good. My father was part of the Yugoslavian national x-c and biathlon teams in the 70’s and 80’s and he said having a Yugoslavian passport was almost like having an American one. They could go just about anywhere with it, heck the Soviets almost revered them.

    Yes, the end of communist rule was a good thing for a lot of the countries in Eastern Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s but you could say it definitely had a negative impact in Yugoslavia. Even though with the right kind of people in power, the county could have prospered under a democratic president. I can see from your posts that you are not very keen on communism, that is fine, and to be honest I am not too keen on it myself, but perhaps a more stable government which was there in the previous 50 years would have kept things at bay in the Balkans. Tito held everything together without killing millions of innocent people like Stalin, while keeping a very good relationship with the West.

    The only thing that was gonna break up Yugoslavia was individual and separatist nationalist movements and propaganda, and unfortunately that is exactly what happened. But really, these kinds of sick minded and no peripheral vision-like politicans are everywhere, it just depends on how strong their ‘propaganda’ and appeal is and what the state of the nation is at that particular time.

    My apology, I totally forgot about Ceauşescu. Yes, well he was certainly a dictator with a big stick. I don’t need to go into too much detail, but that was certainly a good example of totalitarianism. One thing you need to understand about the Balkans is that it is still a ‘melting pot,’ not just because of current or past politics, but because of religion and the number of different cultures that might not be visible to the casual observer, if you know what I mean. Most people are not what you may have seen on TV or read in the newspapers during the 90’s, trust me, I lived there, it is the unfortunate timing of a particular regime that comes along once in lifetime. I am not trying to hype or protect anything here, that is what I honestly see. The biggest problem is the lying, aggressive and manipulating nature of politicans and policies that have come out of that area since the late 80’s, notably with Milosevic, and still is seen today from various bits and pieces of his government’s fallout.

    Greece for example is taking advantage of this and is trying to keep Macedonia away from the EU, because of old (and I mean ancient Greece old) history, they are saying. That is why you see Macedonia called the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” unlike the other countries that were established in 91′ and 92′. I guess some people never learn from the past….

    Enough about politics from me. My apology for going into a unrelating topic. Kris Freeman will storm his way to a top 10 tomorrow, he seems to be on the right track.

  • nordic_dave

    November 20, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    LOL. thanks for that Davord ! Yes many predicted years in advance when Tito dies trouble would happen. Yugoslavia was more Socialist than Communist and proactive in starting the “3rd World Non Alignment Movement”. I am encouraged but skeptical of the other post by the Russian Sports Federation
    promising to clean up pervasive doping as it is a very entrenched culture that will take a while to irradicate if ever.

    If you happen to be in West Yellowstone this weekend, drop by Bullwinkle’s and I can regale you on how Hungary helped precipitate the downfall of the Iron Curtain when they stopped shooting people, East German’s flocked there in droves overwhelming the border. Of course I will be joined by my best friend flying in from Germany Saturday and my other roomate who is from Finland, I am quite sure they can give you a first hand accounting of a perspective they share with me.


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