By Darren Ennis

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HELSINKI, Oct 23 (Reuters) European Union officials and lawmakers are once again courting opposition from top sports bodies, this time over a landmark meeting tomorrow to discuss ways to combat doping across the bloc.

Just days after organisations including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and soccer's governing body FIFA claimed a victory over the bloc's new reform treaty, a fresh row is brewing with lawmakers over who should set EU doping rules.

Governing bodies say the treaty -- agreed by EU leaders last Friday -- gives them more autonomy in running their sports and allows them to be exempt from interference by Brussels, known as ''specificity''.

But EU officials and Council of Europe lawmakers are due to mull over proposals such as criminalising doping across the bloc and a new EU anti-doping agency during a high-level meeting on Wednesday in Lisbon, much to the anger of some sports officials.

IOC president Jacques Rogge warned against setting up a European rival to the World Anti-Doping Agency, proposed by former French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour, who quit his post as WADA vice-president last week.

Lamour also withdrew as a candidate to succeed WADA chief Dick Pound, branding the doping watchdog as ineffective.

He also said he did not want to be president of a body that lacked the strength and dynamism to fight against doping.

He wants the creation of a European agency and claims he has government support from across the EU for the idea.

But Pound refuted Lamour's proposal.

''We've got a perfectly good code, a perfectly good organisation,'' Pound told Reuters last Thursday.

CRIMINAL OFFENCE Tomorrow's meeting is also expected to focus on specific measures such as criminalising doping in a bid to combat a recent rise in the number of cases, which has scarred many sports, most notably cycling and athletics.

The European Commission's strategy paper on sport, released in July, recommends that ''trade in illicit doping substances be treated in the same manner as trade in illicit drugs throughout the EU''.

''We are in favour of the criminalisation of trade in doping substances and we suggest that traders, smugglers, facilitators in the doping trade should be punishable under criminal law in the same manner as drug dealers,'' one EU official said.

Some countries like Italy treat doping as a criminal activity, but others, such as Spain, do not.

A decision to declare doping a criminal offence at EU level will require the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU governments.

''The Commission does not go as far as saying the actual athletes who take drugs be treated as criminals, but there is some support to go further and do this,'' one EU diplomat said.

''The theory is that stripping of titles or suspensions is not enough of a deterrent and maybe a prison sentence or at least a criminal record might be enough of one.'' REUTERS TB HT1627

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