Investigation paves way for Virenque trial

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The Independent Online

Richard Virenque and nine other former Festina cyclists and officials will stand trial from mid-October in the 1998 Tour de France doping case, court sources said yesterday.

The Lille magistrate, Patrick Keil, formally closed his investigation on 21 April, opening the way for the trial.

Virenque, once France's cycling idol, is charged with complicity to supply, incite the use of, and administer drugs, and complicity to import, hold, offer, carry and buy poisonous substances.

In contrast to his former Festina team-mates and sporting director Bruno Roussel, also up for trial, Virenque has always denied doping allegations. He now races for the Italian Polti team.

The European Union has appealed to sports organisations to come up with ideas for fighting drugs in sport and promised to fund the best proposals.

The EU's executive commission said it had about 3 million euros (£1.75m) available to support pilot projects such as information campaigns on the dangers of performanceenhancing drugs and conferences on harmonising the fight against doping.

The commission, which is to be led by the former Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, said it would welcome ideas from organisations in EU member states and from European or world sports bodies.

Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner responsible for sport, said that the 15-nation Union should be the leader in the battle to preserve sport's credibility and athletes' health.

Reding said that in addition to funding pilot projects, the EU would give 1.5m euros to the World Anti-Doping Agency to help finance its budget this year. She said it would also invest 15m euros in short-term anti-doping research.

Australia's Customs Service said yesterday that a scientist from the New South Wales Academy of Sport has been charged with importing steroids over the Internet.

John Pryor will appear in court in Sydney on 9 May charged with two counts of importing a prohibited drug. A customs spokesman confirmed that the investigation involved a package containing the banned performance-enhancing steroid, Dhea, that had been sent to the academy in Sydney under the scientist's name.

Dhea, officially named dehydrohepiandrosterone, is a testosterone-based drug that is sold over the counter in the United States. It is, however, illegal in Australia and is on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances.

On 14 April, the Australian Opals basketball player Annie La Fleur denied any link with a package of the same drug that had been mailed to her home from the USA.

La Fleur, a member of Australia's women's basketball squad for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, did not receive it because Australian Customs agents removed the substance before the parcel was forwarded to her home.