Present and past members of the German biathlon team on strongly dismissed doping charges. Team officials said legal action is underway to fight what they called the defamation of clean athletes.
An anonymous tip accused 31 athletes of blood doping
Stefan Schwarzbach, spokesman for the German Ski Federation (DSV), said on Saturday, Feb. 16, that all athletes have promised to sign a revised sworn statement that they have never used banned substances or other illegal methods.
Schwarzbach confirmed that former stars Uschi Disl, Katrin Apel, Sven Fischer and Ricco Gross -- who all won Olympic and world championship gold medals -- were named in a list that has surfaced allegedly in connection with a latest doping probe in Austria.
"This is false and we are 100 percent behind [our athletes]," Schwarzbach said. "Our athletes, three weeks ago, signed a declaration with our lawyers in which they claim they have never had any link with this laboratory."
He said all athletes were informed again that lying in the statement could result in imprisonment of up to three years.
A "witch hunt"
German biathletes said they've never doped
Fischer, a TV expert for public broadcaster ZDF at the current world championships in Ostersund, said: "I have done nothing in my career ... I am clean."
Schwarzbach spoke of "a witch hunt" and said the DSV will take legal action in the latest affair.
"We will institute legal proceedings against unknown persons for slander," he said. "This is our strongest weapon."
German men's team coach Frank Ullrich said: "This is defamation ... I stand behind my team."
The current team members could not be reached for comments immediately because of the day's races. Schwarzbach did not say who was on the list, but named the atmosphere "subdued" after the athletes were informed on Friday night.
German officials said team members are being falsely targeted for doping
Austria's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) started a formal investigation after it received anonymous information regarding illegal blood doping practices.
The Austrian APA news agency reported that the anonymous tip contained information accusing 31 athletes, mainly from the field of endurance sports and including several Olympic champions, of blood doping and connected insurance fraud.
APA said 16 Austrian and 15 foreign athletes, 10 of them German, had been named in the letter. The Tiroler Tageszeitung said on Thursday that three doctors were also involved.
The probe comes a few weeks after a Vienna blood bank was linked with blood doping practices. This issue prompted a first written statement from the German biathlon team that they had nothing to do with this issue.
The Vienna laboratory accused, Humanplasma, has denied the accusations, which appeared for the first time in 2007, and sued for defamation.
It is not known whether the two cases are linked.