Looking at it from a legal perspective, figure skaters on the way to the Winter Olympics in Turin may find themselves on thin ice and the snowboarding dudes on a slippery slope - the carabinieri [military police] are on the prowl. With less than three months to the opening ceremony the bizarre prospect of snarling hockey players being led away in handcuffs refuses to go away. Despite what might have been said when it bid for the games, Italy has changed its mind. It's a host's prerogative, they say. At issue are drugs of the performance-enhancing variety. The International Olympic Committee's position is that athletes who take them are despicable cheats who should be stripped of their medals and sent home under a cloud of humiliation. Under Italian law, however, it's a criminal offence that carries penalties of up to three years in the slammer. The IOC is still trying to get over the voting scandals of the Salt Lake City Winter games and could well do without seeing images of star athletes behind bars beamed around the world. Not only did five Olympic athletes test positive for performance-enhancing drugs at the last winter games, but so too did a German Paralympian. Scenes of a disabled skier, for instance, being hauled off for a dose of porridge in a state penitentiary would hardly count as textbook PR for the Olympic movement. The IOC says that when the Olympic deal was done back in 1999, Italy agreed to drop the doping law, at least for the duration of the games. But now the Italian Senate is just saying no to drug law changes. What's good enough for our athletes is good enough for you lot, they say. And this debate is not purely academic. While no athlete in Italy has gone to jail yet for a doping offence, a court in Turin is currently considering the appeal of the club doctor of Juventus football team, who was handed a 22-month suspended sentence for pumping his Serie A players full of dodgy substances. Similarly, three cyclists, including Italian Dario Frigo, got six-month suspended sentences after they tested positive during the Giro d'Italia. And Saadi Gadaffi, the son of the Libyan leader, is facing criminal charges of 'sporting fraud' after he tested positive for steroids when he played for another Italian team, Perugia. The IOC said they would conduct 1,200 doping tests in Turin, a 45 per cent increase over the number in the last games, increasing the chances drug cheats will be caught and, consequently, come within reach of the long arm of the law. Many athletes and the IOC say that drug cheats are not on a par with thieves and their actions don't warrant criminal charges. It's murky legal territory, certainly, but on the other hand a case could easily be made that they are guilty of fraud. Consider the money involved: any Italian athlete, for instance, who takes a gold at these games will be handed Euro130,000 ($1.8 million) as a pat on the back from the state. Most countries have similar incentives in place. The Olympic champion title then opens up a host of lucrative endorsement deals not to mention a bevy of business options, ranging from book deals to coaching contracts to hitting the lecture circuit. For most, the mantle of Olympic champion will translate into a wealthy existence. So if someone cheats in an attempt to attain this, are they not in effect stealing this wealth from their fellow non-cheating competitors? If they swindled them out of these assets by other means they'd be expected to face the wrath of the law. While putting elite athletes in the dock seems a little odd, so does saying that the system is prepared to turn a blind legal eye to attempted million-dollar heists. Another peculiarity in all this is that it's Italy that has chosen to lead the moral crusade - an ironic twist given that this is a country that is so enamoured with shifty rogues they made one president. But if all the brouhaha means a couple of drug cheats decide to feign injury and stay at home, it would have to be seen as a welcome thing. And drug cheats be warned, no matter what you do you will be caught. That seems to be the message from the tale of Fenenc Gyurkovics, an innovative but hapless 26-year Hungarian weightlifter. He was sent home from Athens in disgrace after testing positive, but the details of his case only recently emerged when the former president of the national Olympic committee went on national television to vent his spleen. When Gyurkovics was asked for a urine sample, the story goes, he was reluctant, to say the least, so he came up with the brainwave of asking his coach to pee into the container instead. Unfortunately for the strongman the coach had obviously not being replenishing his liquids that day and couldn't quite fill the quota, so he turned to his team captain to provide the necessary top-up. But it seems the captain had been looking to spice up his love life by popping some potency improvement drugs, which contained the banned substance oxandrolone. The weightlifter's melange sample, not a drop of which was his own, tested positive and he was stripped of the medal he took in the 105kg event.