Doping-Australia Olympic chief wants sweeping anti-doping powers

SYDNEY Tue Oct 16, 2012 6:01am EDT

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SYDNEY Oct 16 (Reuters) - Australia's Olympic chief wants the country's anti-doping body to be given sweeping powers to force witnesses to give evidence in its fight against drug use in sport.

The national anti-doping agency (ASADA) is set to launch an investigation after former Olympic cyclist Matt White admitted involvement in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Armstrong's life ban, sought by the American anti-doping agency USADA, relied on testimony from fellow riders in the absence of positive drug tests.

"The government should again consider strengthening ASADA's powers to investigate allegations of doping practices," national Olympic chief John Coates said on Tuesday.

Coates added that ASADA should have "the power to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence and to produce documents relevant to such investigations".

Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), wrote his recommendations in a letter to Sport Minister Kate Lundy, the AAP news agency reported.

He was responding to comments made by Lundy in which she said ASADA were "constantly improving their techniques" in the battle against substance abuse in sport.

Coates's call came as ASADA announced closer working ties with the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) to clamp down on the doping cheats with greater speed and efficiency.

Coates has been pushing for greater authority for investigators to obtain evidence since before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"AOC experience is that without the power to compel the giving of oral and documentary evidence, many allegations of ADRVs (anti-doping rule violations) cannot be properly investigated and prosecuted," the AOC said in a submission to the government in 2006.

As the storm surrounding Armstrong raged, White said he had been part of a doping culture when he rode on the American's U.S. Postal Service team from 2001 to 2003.

The investigation into seven-times Tour de France winner Armstrong was given a major boost by an initial federal grand jury probe that lasted two years.

Though Armstrong was cleared of criminal charges in February, information gathered during the investigation helped USADA pursue allegations of doping.

USADA accused Armstrong of being at the heart of "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme" ever seen in sport. He has always denied doping but decided not to fight the charges.

Australian anti-doping officials said they were aware of allegations made against White in 2010 by American cyclist Floyd Landis.

However, Australian officials had been unable to probe the accusations until now due to a U.S. federal investigation and the subsequent USADA inquiry.

ASADA said earlier this week it would be "seeking further information from USADA and Cycling Australia. ASADA has a duty to be both thorough and accurate in its investigation". (Reporting by Alastair Himmer in Tokyo; Editing by Mark Meadows)

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