Five elite athletes and four others were arrested Wednesday in doping raids in Austria and Germany amid the Nordic skiing world championships.
Austria’s Federal Police Office said the raids targeted “a doping network operating worldwide” and focused on Seefeld, where the championships are taking place. Police said two Austrian athletes were arrested along with one competitor from Kazakhstan and two from Estonia.
One athlete was caught “in the act,” the FPO’s Dieter Csefan said in comments reported by the Austria Press Agency.
“He was picked up with a blood transfusion in his arm,” Csefan said, adding the alleged doping ring was likely involved in other sports, too.
The athletes arrested weren’t named, but two of those arrested were described as cadets in the Austrian police and part of the country’s national cross-country ski team.
The Austrian authorities said they worked with German counterparts who searched nine properties and arrested two people described as a “sports doctor” and an “accomplice.” The group was apparently in the German city of Erfurt.
“The Erfurt-based criminal group is strongly suspected of having carried out blood doping on elite athletes for years to increase their performance in national and international competitions and thereby to gain illegal income,” the FPO said.
Austria has been aggressive in treating doping as a criminal matter in recent years.
After authorities raided the Austrian headquarters of the International Biathlon Union last year, prosecutors said as much as $300,000 in bribes had been paid to cover up doping by Russian athletes over several years. They also said they were treating prize money won by doped athletes as fraudulent earnings. The IBU’s president and general secretary stepped down soon after.
Wednesday’s raids were not related to the IBU investigation, the prosecutors’ office which is handling the biathlon case said.
It’s also not the first time Austria’s skiers have been suspected of doping. Six Austrian athletes in cross-country and biathlon were banned from the Olympics for life in 2007 after Italian police raided their accommodation during the 2006 Turin Games and found banned substances.