ROME (AP) – Italy’s drug laws are so tough that the head of the IOC and the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency are calling for a moratorium during the Turin Winter Games.

IOC president Jacques Rogge and WADA president Dick Pound are backing a proposal that the laws be suspended during the Feb. 10-26 Games.

Italy is one of the few countries that imposes criminal sanctions for doping offenses, on top of the normal sporting sanctions. Under International Olympic Committee rules, athletes face disqualification for a doping offense – but no criminal penalties.

“The Olympic rules and the WADA code never contemplated having doped athletes locked up,” Pound told The Globe and Mail of Toronto last week. “Just get them out of sport.”

IOC member Mario Pescante, the Italian government’s supervisor for the Turin Games, is expected to submit a proposal to Italy’s Senate on Wednesday calling for the moratorium.

“You think American professional hockey players, paid in the millions, will risk being put in handcuffs to come play in Turin? Come on, let’s be realistic,” Pescante said in an interview with the Turin newspaper La Stampa.

But Italian legislators are reluctant to make any change. Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said Tuesday he is against suspending the law.

Turin is home to one of Italy’s top anti-doping prosecutors, Raffaele Guariniello. And Italy has been a pioneer in the fight against doping.

Back in 1991, soccer legend Diego Maradona was suspended from the country’s top league for 15 months after testing positive for cocaine. In 1999, Italian bicycling star Marco Pantani was kicked out of the Giro d’Italia while wearing the leader’s pink jersey after failing a random blood test.

In 2000, law number 376 was passed, calling for criminal penalties for doping.

Athletes caught using banned substances risk prison sentences ranging from three months to three years. The same goes for those who supply or administer the banned substances. The sentence can be even harsher if the substance poses a risk to the athlete’s health.

, or if a minor is involved.

More than 10,000 drug tests are performed annually in Italian sports leagues, all under the guidance of the Italian Olympic Committee. Earlier this month, Health Minister Francesco Storace came out against a moratorium during the Turin Games.

“The thought of rewarding sports champions by de-penalizing the use of drugs at the Turin Olympics is unthinkable,” Storace said. “I suggest to my friend Pescante to avoid insisting on messages that are seriously non-educative to our youth.”

Pescante expressed frustration at the continuing impasse.

“I expected a strong reaction to my proposal, but now I’m being treated as a lobbyist for dopers,” Pescante said Tuesday. “The IOC is only asking that we respect the rules. I spoke for an hour with Rogge, and he is very worried.

“The IOC is convinced that sporting sanctions are enough in the fight against doping.”

Pescante, who is also the government’s undersecretary for sports, said he has spoken to the presidents of international winter sports federations and that they, too, expect the law to be lifted for the Olympics.

“They expect Italy will respect the duties it took on when it was assigned the games,” he said.

AP-ES-10-18-05 1701EDT

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