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Italian fencer Baldini gets 6-month doping ban

ROME — Italian fencer Andrea Baldini has been handed a retroactive six-month ban by the international federation and stripped of his team foil gold medal from the European Championships. He could return to the sport, however, when the World Cup resumes next month. Baldini was removed from Italy's team days before the Beijing Olympics after testing positive for the banned diuretic furosemide at the European Championships in Ukraine in July. Baldini said he had taken an antibiotic prescribed by the Italian federation's doctor and declared it before the doping test. He also suggested he may have been a victim of foul play, although the Italian Olympic Committee dropped its inquiry into an alleged conspiracy plot in October. Meeting in Belfast, the international fencing federation ruled that Baldini be banned retroactively from Sept. 3 — the date he was provisionally suspended — to March 3. The ban is subject to approval by the World Anti-Doping Agency. "The cases of using prohibited substances in our sport are extremely rare," FIE secretary general Maxim Paramonov said in a statement released Tuesday. "Moreover, it is absolutely unclear what could urge the fencer, who had already ensured his participation in the Olympics, to use doping drugs during the competitions of no relevance for him. "(This) decision allows the athlete to return to the elite sport within a short period and try to demonstrate his exceptional talent in the future tournaments." The ruling also means Baldini will have to forfeit his gold medal from the team foil at the European Championships. Baldini and teammates Stefano Barrera, Andrea Cassara and Salvatore Sanzo will be stripped of their win and their gold medals will be given to Polish fencers Tomasz Cieply, Radoslaw Glonek, Michal Majewski and Slawomir Mocek. Monetary prizes will also be redistributed. The Italian fencing federation noted that it was pleased the ruling took into account that Baldini had never failed a test previously and that he was banned from the Olympics. "We're satisfied by the sentence," Italian fencing federation president Giorgio Scarso said. "We've believed in the athlete's good faith from the start." – AP