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Cyclists and other sportspeople from Germany who test positive for banned substances could face up to three years in prison after a new anti-doping law was made official.
“The law was overdue, important penal provisions now come into effect,” said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, according to Inside The Games. His portfolio includes the country’s sporting matters.
“I am convinced that we can tackle doping in sport and the criminal structures behind it more effectively with this anti-doping law.
“It is a clear commitment of Germany for clean and fair sport.”
The country has had several riders involved in doping cases in the past decade. The best-known of those is Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France winner, who retired in 2006 after his implication in Operacion Puerto. He later admitted to doping during his career.
In response to this and subsequent doping cases, German TV channels rescinded their coverage of the Tour de France. They made a return to the event last July, but their absence shows how seriously the issue was taken.
It remains to be seen how the country’s riders and other sports people will react to the criminalisation of doping. However Marcel Kittel, one of the country’s most successful riders, told CyclingTips last year that he believed jail sentences for those involved in banned substances were logical.
“[With the laws] you can try to chase riders or doctors that maybe have something to do with doping,” he said then, reflecting on the news that authorities were considering passing the new law. “Then if you find something, you put them in prison or whatever, or kick them out of the sport. I think that is the way that we should go.
“In the end, it is about protecting the clean athletes. That is the main goal that we have in sport, not only in cycling.”
As regards jailing athletes, he accepted it was a very strong measure, but said that there is a logic to it.
“If you take the Padova investigation as an example, you can see what a professional network stands behind it,” he explained.
“It is not only about doping, it is about money laundering, tax fraud, drug trafficking. All that is crime and if you are involved in it, I think it is absolutely normal to get a prison sentence in the end. There should be no questions raised around it.”
The new legislation has now been made official after being passed by Germany’s Lower House, the Bundestag, plus the second chamber, the Bundesrat, in November, and then being formalised by President Joachim Gauck.
In addition to bans of up to three years for sportspeople, stiffer penalties exist for those who provide them with banned substances. Doctors, coaches and other suppliers can now be jailed for up to 10 years.
The criminalisation of doping brings Germany in line with several other European countries, including France, Italy and Spain.
However, it remains to be seen how bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA will react.
In October its director general David Howman said that prison time could be a far more effective deterrent against doping than suspensions from sport.
“I want to pose the question: should doping be a criminal matter?” he asked, speaking at the 25th Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association conference in Melbourne.
“It is in Italy, and we think – some of us – that the real deterrent that cheating athletes fear is the fear of going to prison. Not the fear of being stood down from their sport for a year, two years, four years but a fear of going to prison.”
However WADA subsequently downplayed the statement, saying that it believed the criminalisation of doping should be limited to those supplying athletes.
“WADA does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people,” it stated. “However the Agency believes that the sanction process for athletes, which includes a right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), is a settled process, accepted by all governments of the world, and further that the sanctions for a doping violation by an athlete, which now includes a longer, four-year period of ineligibility, have been globally accepted by sport and government.
“As such, the Agency does not believe that doping should be made a criminal offence for athletes.”
It has yet to comment on the new German law.