Austria to bring in 10-year prison term for doping

Athletes in Austria caught doping could be charged with serious fraud and face prison terms of up to 10 years, according to an amendment to the national fraud act which is expected to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010.

Under Austria‘s current anti-doping laws, possessing and selling banned substances are already a criminal offence, but not the actual use of the drugs.

Austria sports minister Nobert Darabos and justice minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner on Monday announced the amendment, which awaits ratification by parliament later this year.

“There is no place for doping in Austrian sport anymore,” Darabos said.

The legislation was introduced after a doping scandal rocked the Austrian biathlon and cross country teams at the 2006 Turin Olympics, and cyclist Bernhard Kohl admitted using an illegal blood-booster after finishing third in last year’s Tour de France.

“Who dopes, cheats,” Darabos said. “The athlete not only gains an illegal competitive advantage, he also earns bonuses, sponsor money and prize money.”

Under the altered fraud law, an athlete who is found guilty of doping could face imprisonment of up to three years, or even up to 10 years if his illegal earnings have exceeded ?50,000 ($69,000).

Bandion-Ortner added that “doping is no trivial offense. We have to protect the honest athletes against those who use illegal methods.”

Austria toughened its anti-doping laws before the 2008 Beijing Games, making it a criminal offense to possess and sell banned substances. Manipulating blood or generic material also became a crime, with harsher penalties for those who help athletes dope.

The Austrian anti-doping agency welcomed the efforts of national politicians in the fight against illegal drugs.

“I appreciate these measures … From now on, athletes will think twice before they dope,” NADA chief Andreas Schwab said.