International Cycling Union (UCI) President Brian Cookson believes criminalising doping is a "good idea" and something that should be seriously considered, while he has also warned how some sports remain "in denial" about illegal drug use.
The Briton highlighted changes made since the publication of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission Report in March, including the targeting of "entourages facilitating doping" and the taking of an "intelligence-led testing approach", working with Government, police, judicial and customs forces.
But the prospect of sending convicted dopers to jail, an idea raised by various people in recent months but strongly opposed by organisations including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is also something he believes should be explored.
"I actually think that’s a good idea because it underlines the seriousness with which society views cheating in sport," the official told insidethegames during the SportAccord Convention in Sochi.
"Sport is something we’re so passionate about, so when people see cheating in sport, it almost goes to their heart and soul.
"It’s almost worse than other forms of crime in a way, which sounds crazy, but if people think there’s doping and match fixing and sporting fraud, it underlines something they put their trust in as a beautiful and positive aspect of their lives."
A proposed German law last year suggested jail terms of up to three years for professional athletes found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs, while National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Kipchoge Keino also called on the Kenyan Government to make doping a criminal offence.
But WADA President Sir Craig Reedie told insidethegames soon after that he has strong reservations about the proposed law and is "completely opposed to the criminalisation of athletes".
Existing sporting structures, developed over a number of years, should be left to deal with offending athletes, he argued, while there would also be a problem with products being illegal for professional athletes but not necessarily for other people.
Cookson admitted that he "understands the contrary point of view as expressed by others", but believes "the more we can make it difficult for people to cheat in sport, then the better it is".
He added: "The harder the consequences are for people who cheat and facilitate others cheating, then the better it is.
"So I think we can look at criminalising doping but we can also be more effective at working with Governments, police and other agencies to combat issues which are already illegal, like money laundering, theft and supply of drugs, and tax evasion."
While admitting that cycling has faced mammoth doping problems in recent years, Cookson also differentiated between sports, like his own, which "have a problem with doping and are doing something about it" and others which remain "in denial" about similar problems.
"They are still not taking it seriously," he claimed.
"Sooner or later they are going to face the same kind of problems that we've had, and they are going to have to face them.
"And if they stay deluded, they might have worse problems than we've had."
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March 2015: WADA to examine Cycling Independent Reform Commission report observations in "great detail"
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