Austrian officials have ban lifted

VIENNA -- The Austrian Olympic Committee lifted a ban Tuesday on 12 biathlon and cross-country skiing officials allegedly involved in a doping scandal at the 2006 Turin Games.

The decision could trigger action by the International Olympic Committee, which said it reserved the right to reopen disciplinary proceedings against the officials.

The Austrian committee canceled the suspension of five officials in July and dropped charges against the remaining seven on Tuesday, the AOC said in a statement.

The group, which includes the ski federation's biathlon director Markus Gandler, biathlon coach Alfred Eder and cross-country coach Gerald Heigl, was excluded from future Olympics but will now be allowed to travel to next year's games in Vancouver.

The AOC said the officials were deemed "rehabilitated" based on new national anti-doping laws and the report of a state prosecution task force on doping.

The AOC followed a decision by world skiing governing body FIS, which had dropped doping charges against Gandler, Eder and Heigl in February last year.

The IOC said in a statement that it had no official confirmation from the Austrians on the lifting of the bans, but added, "Should this be the case, the IOC absolutely reserves the right to reopen disciplinary action against all those involved."

Gandler said he was "very happy" about the AOC's decision.

"This brings peace to our team and makes things a lot easier," the biathlon director said.

Ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel declined to comment.

At the 2006 Olympics, Italian police raided the Austrian cross-country and biathlon team lodgings, seizing a large amount of doping products and equipment. The raid followed a tip that Walter Mayer, a former team coach who had been banned from the games by the IOC for a blood doping scandal in 2002, was in the area.

The police action in Turin triggered an investigation that led the IOC to impose lifetime bans on four athletes. One of the penalties was reduced to a four-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The IOC also fined the Austrian Olympic Committee $1 million for failing to prevent the blood-doping violations.