By VeloNews Interactive wire services, copyright AFP2001
Friday’s firing of Italian rider Dario Frigo by his Fassa Bortolo team after he admitted ownership of illegal drugs found in his possession during police raids Wednesday night is just the latest doping-related scandal to rock Italian sport this year.
On Saturday it was reported that five riders of the Italian Liquigas team are under judicial investigation for doping-related matters after the police blitz on hotel rooms used by riders at the Giro d’Italia. Another Italian cyclist Ivan Gotti, twice a Giro winner, is also reportedly being probed.
It is only recently that the Italian authorities have tackled doping and it has once again taken an incident of the magnitude of the Giro scandal to ensure the issue has made the front pages of the specialist sports press.
Many judicial inquiries implicating senior figures in Italian sport are ongoing but becoming bogged down in interminable procedure. But whether the newfound determination to root out wrongdoing will continue remains to be seen.
The authorities have had their powers strengthened by the new anti-doping ‘sporting fraud’ laws that have been on the statute books for only six months. Those laws threaten culprits with jail terms of up to three years but the incoming center-right administration in Italy have already indicated it may repeal the law.
During the electoral campaign that ended in his victory on polling day on May 13 Italy’s prime minister-in-waiting Silvio Berlusconi said: “Doping is an invention of the left.”
Outgoing left-left sports minister Giovanna Melandri had developed the law that made doping a criminal offence, instituting a new anti-doping committee outside the auspices of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) which itself has been implicated in various doping scandals.
Investigating magistrate Pierguido Soprani claims that CONI between 1980 and 1996 financed the biomedical center at Ferrara run by Professor Francesco Conconi where dozens of top-level athletes were administered banned substance EPO.
Soprani has since been muzzled and Conconi and seven other doctors accused of “association with miscreants” and “administering dangerous products” are still free and yet to be judged.
Berlusconi has meanwhile promised CONI that they will have all their powers restored. So far only Italy’s most famous cyclist Marco Pantani, a former Giro and Tour de France winner, has been convicted, earning a three-month suspended prison term and also racing charges in another case.
Pantani is still racing and is appealing his conviction in a case that was – surprisingly – given a relatively low profile in Italy. But while cycling has born the brunt of the headlines Italy’s most popular sport football has also been in the spotlight.
During this season there has been a spate of players testing positive for banned steroid nandrolone with Juventus and Holland midfielder Edgar Davids and Lazio and Portugal defender Fernando Couto the two highest profile cases. Both deny wrongdoing.
Italy’s national team coach Giovanni Trapattoni played down the trend, saying: “Wild boar meat can increase nandrolone levels.” Last October when a newspaper reported that 61 athletes – including five who won gold medals in the Sydney Olympics – had given abnormal growth hormone readings in pre-Olympic tests conducted by CONI there was a furor.
But the target of the furor was the newspaper that aired the allegations with rival media organizations choosing not to investigate the claims but instead to blame the paper for publishing them.
The newspaper – Corriere della Sera – gave precise details as to the alleged test results by each athlete.
CONI joined in the criticism of the paper and denied doping although they did not deny that those results had been yielded, downplaying them as “non-definitive documents, containing the ‘first analyses’ of the scientific commission”.
CONI president Gianni Petrucci said: “It is not a case of doping but only of research work by the (CONI) scientific commission.”