MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia, whose track and field athletes were banned from the Rio Olympics after disclosures of a state-sponsored doping scandal, has brought in a law which makes inducement to doping a criminal offense, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

Coaches and specialists in sports medicine and training who induce athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs now face heavy punishment, including imprisonment, according to the law which was approved by Russia's lower house of parliament.

Punishments could range from a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,700), to a prison sentence of up to one year and a ban from taking up certain professional posts for up to three years, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

If the action brought about the death of a sports person or other serious consequences, the person responsible could be jailed for up to three years.

"This once again points out that our government's policies will absolutely not tolerate doping and especially those coaches who are trying to pressure underage sportsmen to take banned substances," Alexander Zhukov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee, told TASS in an interview.

"This is, of course, an answer to our foreign critics who have accused our country of having some sort of state program which supports doping. Undoubtedly, there was never such a program," he concluded. 

Russia was suspended from international athletics in November 2015 after an investigation uncovered damning evidence of widespread doping and corruption.

Its track and field and weightlifting teams were excluded from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, while the entire Russian team was banned from the subsequent Paralympics in September.

(Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; Editing by Richard Balmforth)