Minister of Sport Murray McCully has slammed the four-year ban on repeat Belarusian drug cheat Nadzeya Ostapchuk, calling the punishment ''weak'' and ''an appalling signal'' in the global fight against drugs in sport.
However, the verdict handed down to the European shot put fraud appears cast in stone, with all possible windows for appeal understood to be closed.
McCully, who is also a board member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has spoken out strongly after Fairfax Media yesterday revealed drug cheat Ostapchuk has escaped a lifetime ban from athletics, despite being caught doping at both the London Olympic Games in 2012 and at the world championships in 2005.
Repeat offences usually carry life-long suspensions and such a penalty was widely expected to be extended to Ostapchuk.
But instead, the career of an athlete who cheated her way to both a world and Olympic title has been handed a lifeline - with only two years remaining on a retrospective punishment back-dated to 2012 by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
The news has prompted McCully to express concern over the IAAF's ability to bring cheats to justice appropriately and in a timely manner, citing ''toothless'' punishment and a failure for world sport to bring a cheat - and the highest profile doping case of the last Olympic Games - properly to account.
''The four-year ban imposed on Ostapchuk by the IAAF after this long wait is weak and will send an appalling signal to younger athletes,'' McCully told Fairfax Media.
''The credibility of the IAAF has already been badly dented by the long delay that has occurred. It now appears toothless in bringing down a ban that provides no real disincentive to drug cheats.''
Official documents from the IAAF declare Ostapchuk's ineligibility period will cease on August 14, 2016 - the second week of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the scheduled third day of athletics events.
With Ostapchuk ineligible to compete until the Games, she will not be able to record any form of qualification and will therefore not face Adams for Olympic gold in Rio, where Adams could become the first New Zealander to win three successive Olympic gold medals.
However, at 33, age is not a barrier for Ostapchuk to return to international shot put at the very highest level in 2016. Alex Baumann, chief executive of the Crown's elite sport entity, High Performance Sport New Zealand, New Zealand's anti-doping boss Graeme Steel and New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary general Kereyn Smith all expressed surprise and disappointment over the length of the ban.
Baumann, himself a two-time Olympic champion, said that in his opinion there was only one appropriate punishment in this situation.
''Personally, I'm disappointed, it should be a lifetime ban,'' Baumann said.
Last night Athletics New Zealand released a statement, saying while they were also disappointed, they will monitor the situation.
''Athletics New Zealand will provide further comment on the issue once we have had an opportunity to review the sanction in more detail.''
However, Fairfax Media understands all opportunities for the decision to be appealed are over - with Ostapchuk, Belarus' national anti-doping agency, the IAAF and WADA the only one's who had a right to appeal.
Nick Cowan, manager of two-time Olympic champion Valerie Adams who was robbed of a gold medal ceremony at London 2012, also said Ostapchuk should be gone for good.
''Ostapchuk doesn't deserve to compete at the next Olympics. No cheat does, or ever should,'' Cowan said.
''A life ban was warranted, so naturally, we are disappointed. However, we're not the administrators or the lawyers so we think it's best to leave the judgments at this stage to them in the hope that it may be able to be reconsidered.''
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