August 1, 2008 / 2:25 PM / 9 years ago

Italy's Baldini fails drugs test

<p>Italy's Andrea Baldini reacts after losing to Germany's Peter Joppich in their men's fencing individual foil final at the World Fencing Championship in St.Petersburg, Russia, in this September 30, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk</p>

MILAN (Reuters) - World number one foil fencer Andrea Baldini has been excluded from the Italian team for the Beijing Olympics after failing a doping test, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said on Friday.

The 22-year-old, who won the silver medal in the foil at the 2006 and 2007 world championships, tested positive for the diuretic furosemide during the European fencing championship in Kiev last month, a CONI spokesman said.

CONI has given his place to Andrea Cassara, the European champion and bronze medalist at the Athens Olympics, who did not qualify because Baldini and Salvatore Sanzo ranked above him, the Italian Fencing Federation (FIS) said on its website (www.federscherma.it).

“I can walk with my head high because I‘m clean,” Baldini told a news conference.

”I am being unjustly deprived my participation at the Olympics. I did not voluntarily take the drug I‘m accused of and the federation doctor did not give me any drugs, apart from an antibiotic, which I declared at the time of the doping test.

“Doping does not exist in fencing. It has no sense.”

Earlier on Friday, federation president Giorgio Scarso had told Reuters Baldini could be restored for the August 8-24 Games should a second sample prove negative.

BANNED MEDICATION

“We heard last night that that was the result... we have now asked for the counter-analysis (B sample),” said Scarso.

“I hope that the counter-analysis clears him -- as they say, hope dies last. We’re waiting for the result, even though the experts say it’s 99 percent likely that the first result will be confirmed. We’re expecting the result early next week.”

He said the medication was used in hospitals in cases of cardiac arrest, although it is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) because it can be used as a masking agent for other drugs.

“I‘m disconcerted, sad and it’s an ugly thing for the world of fencing. If he did something wrong he has to be punished. If, however, the analysis was wrong then he should be rehabilitated,” Scarso added.

“It’s a very strong signal to our athletes to be extremely cautious when using any kind of medicine, even if it’s widely available in hospitals and pharmacies.”

Italy has been hit by doping scandals in the run-up to the Games, with this week’s announcement that women’s world road race cycling champion Marta Bastianelli had failed a drugs test followed by Riccardo Ricco’s confession of taking EPO after testing positive in July’s Tour de France.

Additional reporting by Paul Virgo in Rome, Sara Rossi in Milan and Sophie Hardach in Beijing, editing by Jon Bramley and Rex Gowar

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