SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's anti-doping agency, heavily criticized after a two-year investigation into the use of banned peptides, was being forced to operate "with its hands tied behind its back", the country's Olympic chief said on Saturday.
Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) President John Coates said the failure of the government to enact legislation to coerce athletes to testify to doping authorities was severely hampering their work.
A clause in a bill which would have compelled athletes to answer questions from the Australian Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) failed to pass in the upper house of the country's legislature in 2013.
"We are left with an act that excuses individuals from answering questions or giving information if the answer or the information might tend to incriminate them," Coates told the AOC AGM.
"When it comes to investigating most of the nine anti-doping rule violations which are not based on the presence of a prohibited substance in an athlete's sample, ASADA has been largely left with its hands tied behind its back."
ASADA decided last month not to appeal a decision to acquit 34 professional Australian Rules footballers of drugs charges and handed the case over to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The Australian Football League's anti-doping tribunal had found the former and current players of the Essendon Bombers club not guilty of taking banned supplement Thymosin beta-4.
With no positive drug tests recorded, and having failed to compel key witnesses to sign sworn statements, ASADA had brought a case to the tribunal it admitted was circumstantial.
The ASADA probe was triggered by a dramatic news conference by the country's then sports minister in February 2013 on the back of a report that alleged the widespread use of banned substances in sport.
The investigation also found wrongdoing in the National Rugby League, with 17 players accused of using banned substances when playing at the Sydney-based Cronulla Sharks in 2011.
In August last year, 12 current and former Cronulla players accepted one-year bans.
Coates also rounded on Australian critics of the International Olympic Committee's World Anti-Doping code, asserting it was fit for purpose for professional team sports.
"It is just plain wrong to say, as I have read, that the code was not designed for team sports," added Coates, who is also a vice president of the IOC.
"These commentators forget that the highly professional team sports of soccer, ice hockey, basketball and volleyball and the other team sports of handball, rugby sevens, hockey and water polo, which have always been bound by the code at both the international and national levels, are Olympic sports."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)