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Italy Backs Off Demand for Doping Tests

January 23, 2006

TURIN, Italy (AP) _ The Italian health ministry has backed down from a demand that it conduct doping tests at next month’s Turin Olympics.

The demand had clashed with reassurances from other Italian government officials that doping tests be left to the International Olympic Committee during the Feb. 10-26 Winter Games.

``The Italian Health Ministry intends to conform to the commitments taken by our government,″ said Olympic supervisor Mario Pescante on Monday.

Ministry undersecretary Cesare Cursi, who recently threatened to send police to conduct drug tests on Olympic athletes, indicated a compromise would soon be approved by the Italian premier’s office.

Pescante said he will propose that Giovanni Zotta, head of the ministry’s anti-doping commission, be included on the Olympic testing body. He said he will seek approval from IOC president Jacques Rogge on Tuesday.

The body includes officials from the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency and Turin’s organizing committee.

The agreement ``aims to safeguard the application″ of the law while also ``safeguarding all the organizations involved, like the IOC,″ said Cursi, quoted by Italian news agency ANSA at an anti-doping convention in Rome.

Under Italy’s anti-doping law, athletes can face criminal sanctions for drug offenses. The IOC disqualifies and expels athletes for doping at the Olympics, but does not support criminal penalties.

Cursi reiterated there would be no change in the law, which he said is aimed at protecting health.

``Better a few less medals and a few more lives saved,″ Cursi said.

The contentious issue seemed resolved in December when Pescante arranged a solution keeping the law in place, but putting the IOC in charge of testing. A decree issued in early January by the health ministry gave its anti-doping commission responsibility for testing at all national and international competitions in Italy.

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