Greece toughens doping law following weightlifting scandal

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece on Tuesday promised tougher penalties against doping, amid a drug scandal that is likely to exclude the national weightlifting team from the Beijing Olympics.

Michalis Liapis, the minister for culture and sport, said a legal amendment would make the use of banned substances by athletes in competitive sport a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

The law is also set to bolster powers at the domestic anti-doping agency, ESKAN, and revise state benefits for Olympic medal winners.

Ministry officials said the reforms would take effect after the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

Eleven members of Greece's national weightlifting team tested positive for banned substances on March 7. The results -- still pending confirmation -- were announced on April 4.

The changes are based on a report issued Tuesday by an expert committee created in the wake of the doping scandal. The committee also proposed scaling back lavish state benefits -- including jobs and business licenses -- awarded to top Greek athletes, as well as punishing sporting federations with frequent doping violations.

Felony charges would also be introduced against coaches whose athletes test positive for doping and against those who distribute banned substances.

"The measures are both preventive and punitive. Personally, I prefer to focus on the preventive measures," Liapis said. "Doping is a national issue. ... Doping offenders will not allowed to pay a fine instead of serving their sentence."