MONTREAL (AP) – World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Richard Pound criticized as “very light” a plea agreement that recommends BALCO founder Victor Conte spend four months in prison.

Conte headed off a potentially explosive trial last Friday when he pleaded guilty in San Francisco to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering in a deal with federal prosecutors. Athletes such as baseball slugger Barry Bonds and Olympic star Marion Jones could have been called to testify in a trial.

Conte, who founded the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, was charged with conspiring to distribute performance-enhancing drugs to more than 30 athletes in baseball, football and track and field. The money laundering charges carried a maximum 20-year term and the conspiracy charge five years.

As part of the agreement, Conte admitted in court that he distributed steroids.

“It is a disappointing outcome as far as I’m concerned that somebody who systematically tried to destroy the whole basis of sport by helping athletes and coaches to cheat gets to walk away with a four-month sentence,” Pound said Monday at the World Swimming Championships.

“An athlete who got caught for doing the same sort of thing gets two years.”

In exchange for Conte’s guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop dozens of counts against him and two other men. If the plea agreement is followed by a judge at sentencing in October, Conte will spend four months in prison and four months on house arrest.

“It ends up with a kind of a whimper and a very light sentence that many people think is not commensurate with the gravity of the offenses,” Pound said.

Several elite athletes, including Bonds, Jones and New York Yankees teammates Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi, now likely never will have to testify in open court about steroid use.

“That’s an unfortunate message for professional sport in the United States,” Pound said.

None of the athletes publicly has admitted steroid use. But grand jury testimony leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle has left a cloud of suspicion over athletes including Bonds and Giambi.

“It’s particularly frustrating that some of the evidence may not be available and very frustrating that part of the plea bargain did not include helping to clarify which athletes have been involved,” Pound said.

Pound said he hopes Conte voluntarily will cooperate in disclosing such information. Conte accused Jones of doping in a December interview on ABC’s “20/20,” a move that led Jones to sue Conte for defamation.

“He and Marion Jones have diametrically opposite positions on doping,” Pound said. “One of them is lying, and I just hope that we can find out which one it is.”

Meanwhile, Pound said WADA will be working with Chinese officials to ensure there is a solid anti-doping program in place leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. China was humiliated by a series of doping scandals in the 1990s, many involving its swimmers and long-distance runners.

“We know that the Chinese do not want to be embarrassed by having cheats at their own games,” he said.

Athletes competing at the two-week World Swimming Championships randomly were subjected to blood and urine testing prior to arriving in Montreal. They also could be tested before and after competing here.

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