Italy's government supervisor for the Winter Olympics in Turin on Wednesday called for a moratorium on the country's tough anti-doping law during the games next February. Italy is one of a few countries that impose criminal sanctions for doping offenses on top of the standard sporting sanctions.
Under International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules, athletes face disqualification for a doping offense but no criminal penalties. Athletes in Italy caught using banned substances risk prison sentences ranging from three months to three years.
Italy was the first country in 2000 to adopt such a tough anti-doping law. But legal penalties also exist in France, Belgium and Sweden.
The International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency have been calling for a moratorium during the Turin Winter Games.
Italy's government supervisor for the Games, Mario Pescante, told a Senate committee Wednesday the existing law in Italy is inadequate to combat doping because it only refers to professionals, not amateurs. He said, as it stands, the law violates the existing code of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Mr. Pescante said it may seem he is in favor of doping. But, he added, "the truth is that our country must comply with the international commitments it has taken: to respect the laws of the International Olympic Committee, which does not envisage criminal sanctions for athletes."
Concerns have been voiced that professional athletes, mainly from the United States, may decide to skip the Games unless the moratorium is in place. In a recent interview with an Italian daily, Mr. Pescante said: "You think American professional hockey players, paid in the millions, will risk being put in handcuffs to come play in Turin?"
Italy has been a pioneer in the fight against doping and Turin is home to one of Italy's top anti-doping prosecutors.
But a number of politicians have voiced strong disapproval for a moratorium, arguing that it would send the wrong message to athletes and children. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini has said he is against suspending the law.
Mr. Fini said one of the principles of sports is fairness and athletes who use banned substances violate those principles. He said Italy's legislation is just and he would not want to see it weakened.
The Italian health minister, Francesco Storace, has also declared that lifting criminal penalties for users of doping substances was wrong. He said lifting the criminal penalty would, in effect, "reward" athletes and send the wrong message to the youth.
Mr. Pescante told the Senate committee it may be too late to change the doping law anyway.