6 Austrian athletes get lifetime Olympic ban

Six Austrian athletes were banned for life from the Olympics Wednesday for their involvement in a doping scandal at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

Six Austrian athletes were banned for life from the Olympics Wednesday for their involvement in a doping scandal at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee came after an investigation into alleged blood doping violations by the Austrian cross-country skiing and biathlon teams.

The Austrian athletes also had their competition results from Turin annulled. None won medals.

It's the first time the IOC has punished athletes without positive or missed doping tests, and the first time athletes have received lifetime Olympic bans. The Austrians were found guilty of possessing prohibited substances and taking part in a doping conspiracy, based on materials seized by Italian police during a raid on the athletes' living quarters.

"This shows the IOC's clear determination to fight doping with zero tolerance," said IOC vice-president Thomas Bach, a German lawyer who led the investigation.

The IOC identified the banned Austrians as biathletes Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottmann, and cross-country skiers Martin Tauber, Juergen Pinter, Johannes Eder and Roland Diethart.

A seventh athlete, cross-country skier Christian Hoffmann, had his case referred to the International Ski Federation for further investigation.

Other sanctions possible

Bach said the IOC investigation will continue with hearings next month.

The six punished Wednesday are banned from involvement in any capacity at the Olympics, including as athletes, coaches or officials.

"The severity of the sanctions is motivated by the fact that these cases go further than straightforward possession of prohibited substances and methods and are clear instances where a network, including athletes, colluded to manipulate blood and to engage [in] doping practices," the IOC said.

The athletes also face possible punishment from the international ski federation. The IOC action applies only to Olympic competition.

Acting on a tip, Italian police raided the Austrian lodgings outside Turin Feb. 18, 2006. The raid was triggered by the presence of former Austrian coach Walter Mayer, who was implicated in a blood doping case at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and banned by the IOC from the Turin Olympics.

Mayer fled after the Italian raid. He crashed his car into a police roadblock after crossing into Austria, ending up briefly in a psychiatric hospital.

Along with the police raid, Olympic drug-testers conducted surprise doping checks on 10 Austrians. The tests came back negative, but the IOC said it would continue its investigation based on the police findings.

The IOC received a report from Italian investigators this year.

An IOC disciplinary commission held two days of hearings on the case this month in Lausanne, Switzerland. All the Austrian athletes who were asked to appear declined to attend.

'A kind of conspiracy'

Bach said the Italian police report showed a "great quantity of medical equipment" had been seized, including material for collecting, storing, freezing and transfusing blood, as well as a device for measuring blood level counts. Blood doping is used to boost endurance by increasing the level of oxygen-rich blood cells in the body.

"What is remarkable is that all this material was in possession of the athletes," Bach said. "There was no official doctor. This was not a laboratory of the team or the medical room of the team. This was the dormitories of the athletes."

Bach said the evidence showed the athletes were working together.

"This kind of behaviour constitutes in principle an additional offence, a kind of conspiracy, of covering up in this case," he said. "We thought this to be very aggravating circumstances which required a severe sanction."

Peter Schroecksnadel, chief of the Austrian Ski Federation, could not immediately be reached for comment.

His position will come under scrutiny in the case, which goes back to a surprise visit by World Anti-Doping Agency testers at a private Austrian training base in Ramsau in late January 2006, just weeks before the opening of the Feb. 10-26 Turin Games.

There was a tussle, with the doping control officers refused entry and told to leave.