Now, IOC on Lance's trail

Berlin: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will investigate Lance Armstrong's 2000 Olympics bronze medal after the American was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in the biggest doping scandal to hit the sport.

"The IOC will now immediately start the process concerning the involvement of Lance Armstrong, other riders and particularly their entourages with respect to the Olympic Games and their future involvement with the Games," an IOC official said on Thursday.

Armstrong, who won a time-trial medal at the Sydney Games, was stripped of his 1999-2005 Tour victories last month when the International Cycling Union (UCI) ratified a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) decision to erase his results from August, 1998.

A USADA report that included testimony from several former teammates against him and themselves, called it the "most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen".

Apart from stripping Armstrong's titles, the UCI also said it was setting up an independent commission to investigate allegations made against the UCI over the Armstrong affair.

"The IOC has taken note of the UCI's decision and welcomes all measures that will shed light on the full extent of this episode and allow the sport to reform and to move forward," the IOC official said.

"We await the findings of the independent commission which will look into the UCI's role, and the recommendations they will make to ensure a healthy future for cycling."

Armstrong, who overcame cancer to dominate the sport, has always denied doping and maintains he never failed a drugs test. The IOC has an eight-year statute of limitation for changing Olympic results and stripping medals from doping offenders but IOC vice-president Thomas Bach hinted last month there could be ways around the time limit in this case.

"USADA's report has given some pointers that the statute of limitation was interrupted through Lance Armstrong lying about doping," Bach, a lawyer who heads the IOC's juridical commission said, "We will have to examine to see if this is a way we can follow according to Swiss law."

Meanwhile, according to a report from Lausanne, a decision to strip Armstrong of his career record, including seven Tour de France wins, and ban him from cycling for life for doping rides roughshod over established anti-doping rules, experts have said.

Several sports law specialists said the USADA report that triggered Armstrong's downfall and world cycling's confirmation of its punishment ignored the statute of limitations that ordinarily applies in such cases.

The Texan rider may even have grounds for appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the decision, it was suggested. "The case is certainly unique in its scale but it's not a reason not to apply or even ignore the (anti-doping) rules, as we've seen," said Antonio Rigozzi, a doping law professor at the university of Neuchatel in Switzerland.

The lawyer, however, said that although he could understand why the International Cycling Union preferred to ratify the USADA findings, the sport's world governing body had lost credibility by "giving precedence to politics over law".

Anti-doping rules state that there is an eight-year time limit to bring cases of alleged violations but eyebrows were raised in legal circles about agreements made with Armstrong's former teammates to testify against him.

Armstrong was said to be at the heart of the biggest doping programme in the history of sport and was stripped of his career record from August 1, 1998, leaving him with just a handful of race wins and a revised best Tour finish of 36th.

"We've not got a classic anti-doping procedure but an Armstrong procedure," said Alexis Schoeb, another Swiss lawyer specialising in sport.

"We're focusing solely on him and we're accepting, in exchange for testimony favourable to the dossier, to have a number of other athletes spared by this tidal wave. A lot of former cyclists are currently owning up, like the head of the Garmin team, Jonathan Vaughters. In these cases, the eight-year limitation has been respected."

"For some, we're applying the rules and for Armstrong we're not. There's a touch of double standards."