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Austrian ski federation clears former coach of doping

By Staff
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VIENNA, Apr 19 (Reuters) Austria's ski federation has cleared former cross-country coach Walter Mayer of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation into February's Winter Olympic doping raids in Turin.

The federation's disciplinary committee said today it had found no evidence Mayer had been involved in ''organised doping''.

The committee said it could not rule out the use of illegal substances during the Games by three Austrian athletes and said that two of them -- biathletes Wolfgang Rottmann and Wolfgang Perner -- could not be sanctioned in any case because they have since announced their retirement.

A separate disciplinary action has been started against the third athlete, who has not been named.

Italian prosecutors are still deciding whether to bring charges against Mayer who attended February's Olympics as a private individual after being banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for his involvement in a blood transfusion scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

His presence in Turin prompted the IOC to launch a co-ordinated doping raid with Italian police on hotels occupied by the Austrian cross-country and biathlon teams.

The athletes involved all tested negative. Mayer was not located until the following day, when he crashed into a police road-block just inside the Austrian border.

Earlier this month, Italian prosecutor Ciro Santoriello told French newspaper L'Equipe that Mayer appeared to be part of an organised doping system. He also said his office had been hindered in its investigation by the Austrian ski federation.

''FALSE THINGS'' ''There has been a lot of false things coming out of Turin,'' federation press officer Jo Schmid said on Wednesday. ''But that is not the reason why we are announcing our findings today.

''Our committee has reached the end of its preliminary investigation and we always said we would announce the conclusions at that point.'' According to Schmid, Mayer appeared before the disciplinary commission on Tuesday but was not asked to justify his presence at the Games.

''Mayer was in Turin as a spectator so that issue was not relevant to the disciplinary investigation,'' Schmid said.

As well as facing possible charges in Italy, where sports doping is classified as a crime, Mayer is also the subject of separate investigations by the Austrian Olympic Committee and the IOC.

The Austrian Olympic Committee is expected to wrap up its inquiry in the next two days and was not prepared to comment on Wednesday about the findings of the ski federation.

Mayer has responded with legal action of his own, filing defamation suits against IOC president Jacques Rogge and World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound.

Reuters AY KP2055

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