World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President Sir Craig Reedie has expressed strong reservations about Germany's proposed new anti-doping law, saying WADA is "completely opposed to the criminalisation of athletes".
While the agency does favour criminal penalties for drug dealers, coaches and other members of an athlete's entourage found guilty of serious transgressions, Sir Craig said that existing sporting structures, developed over a number of years, should be left to deal with offending athletes.
He held up Italy, where doping in sport has been a criminal offence since before the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, as an example of good practice.
"While the law has proved itself to be an effective tool in the fight against doping, no athlete in Italy has ever been subject to criminal prosecution," Sir Craig said.
"That's the way it should be."
Sir Craig also emphasised the need for legislation to permit the transfer of information between agencies and the use of investigative powers by law enforcement bodies.
His comments come in the wake of last week's news that Germany may next year present a proposed law to its Parliament that would include the possibility of jail terms of up to three years for professional athletes.
About 7,000 German professional athletes who are covered by the national testing programme would be affected by the new law, which would not extend to recreational athletes.
Foreign athletes caught doping while competing in Germany would also risk prison, as would doctors or others found to have provided drugs, with jail terms of up to 10 years envisaged.
There has been a chorus of calls for tougher penalties for drug cheats in recent years, with athletes and former athletes often among those taking the hardest line on the issue.
A new World Anti-Doping Code extending to four years the maximum length of ban from their sport for athletes found guilty of serious doping offences for the first time, is due to come into effect on January 1.
But the new Code also increases the scope for plea-bargaining, with WADA able to agree to a cooperating athlete serving no ban at all in "exceptional circumstances".
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