Track and field's world body approves return to four-year bans for drug cheats

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Athletics will end 18 years of frustration in 2015 by returning to four-year bans for first-time dope cheats, ending the situation of Olympic athletes suspended for doping turning up to compete in the following Games.

Having been forced to cut its ban from four to two years in 1997 to bring it in line with other leading sports and get worldwide governments on board, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has been under increasing pressure to restore the stiffer penalty in the wake of a slew of high-profile doping cases.

On Thursday, two days before the start of the world championships in Moscow, it announced that there would be a return to four-year bans.

"The new WADA (world anti-doping agency) Code, which will come into force on Jan 1, 2015, will reflect our firm commitment to have tougher penalties and the IAAF will return to four-year sanctions for serious doping offences," the IAAF said in a statement following the second day of its Congress.

"The IAAF has an ethical obligation to the overwhelming majority of athletes and officials who believe in clean sport.

"As a leader in this fight, the IAAF has built and delivers a programme that is well resourced, far reaching, sophisticated and increasingly able to detect and remove from the sport those who breach our anti-doping rules."

Athletics has recently been again hard-hit by a string of doping cases, ranging from high-profile athletes such as American Tyson Gay and Jamaican trio Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Sherone Simpson to multiple positive tests in Turkey.

Some of the 31 Turkish athletes were as young as 17 and the controversies have led to calls for federations to be punished for failing to control the situation.