WADA Extends the First Doping Offense Ban to 4 Years

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The World Anti-Doping Agency ratified the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code.

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recently approved the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code at the Fourth World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The revised code increases the suspension given to athletes for a first-time doping violation from the current two years to four years.  Under the new code, athletes tested positive three times for prohibited substances will face a life-time ban from sports.

Although the new WADA code extends the ban for a first-time offense, it increases flexibility of sanctions for those who have been found to have taken banned substances unintentionally or with no significant fault, or who cooperate with investigations by anti-doping authorities.  Moreover, the new code provides anti-doping authorities with more power to punish athletes’ support personnel, such as coaches and trainers, who conspire in athletes’ doping.

The revision also provides anti-doping agencies greater investigatory power, and it requires national governments for countries with participating athletic organizations to put in place laws or administrative practices that will permit the sharing of information and data with anti-doping organizations.

WADA is an independent international body established under Swiss private law in 1999.  It is responsible for promoting, coordinating, and monitoring the global “fight against doping in sport” with cooperation by intergovernmental organizations, governmental authorities, and sports bodies.  Participating organizations include the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which organizes the Olympic Games, international sports federations, which administers one or more sports at world level, and national Olympic committees.  The WADA statute states that the organization “will seek and obtain from all of the above the moral and political commitment to follow its recommendations.”

One of WADA’s key functions is to create and monitor implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code.  The code defines prohibited substances, testing and investigation processes, sanctions, and appealing process.  It stipulates that “all provisions of the code are mandatory in substance and must be followed as applicable by each anti-doping organization and athlete or other person.”  Over 600 organizations worldwide, including the IOC, international sports federations, national Olympic committees, national anti-doping organizations, and professional sports leagues have adopted the code.

Since the last revision of World Anti-Doping Code in 2009, the world has seen an increase in prominent doping violations in various sports.  In cycling, for instance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last year banned the seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong for life and stripped him of his titles.  Multiple Olympic medalists including Tyson Gay, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell, and Sherone Simpson (Jamaica) reportedly have tested positive and are under investigation.  The doping violation list includes athletes who participate in almost every sport.

Under these circumstances, a number of sports organizations have called for a stronger deterrent against doping.  In particular, the IOC has sought to have the WADA code bar any athlete who has violated doping rules from competing in the next Olympic Games.  In 2008, IOC adopted its own rule that would ban any athletes who have received a doping suspension of more than six months from competing in the next Olympic Games.  However, in 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), an institution to resolve sports-related legal disputes through arbitration, in 2011, ruled that the IOC ban was “invalid and unenforceable,” because, by providing a period of ineligibility longer than what WADA code provides, the IOC rule effectively made “a substantive change to the WADA Code, which Signatories of the WADA Code have contractually committed themselves not to do and which is prohibited by Article 23.2.2 of the WADA Code.”  Given that the Olympic Games have more than symbolic meaning for many athletes, WADA’s decision to extend its sanction to four years will now further discourage athletes from attempting doping.

Also, the new WADA code amendments address the role conspirators can play in doping violations.  Recent cases highlighting the role of doctors and others in perpetrating doping include Operación Puerto, in which a police investigation revealed that a Spanish doctor apparently provided performance-enhancing drugs to a large number of cyclists, and the Biogenesis case, in which a clinic in Miami reportedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to the US professional baseball players.   The greater investigatory powers and information-sharing called for under the new provisions of the WADA code will strengthen anti-doping agencies ability to detect violations more effectively.

Despite the addition of new provisions, the WADA code will continue to have a major shortcoming: it lacks an ultimate enforcement authority.  The code  relies for its implementation on the international and national organizations who adopted the code for anti-doping testing, investigation, and sanctions.   In Kenya, where at least 17 athletes have recently received doping-related bans by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) — the world governing body for the sport of track and field athletics — the national authorities have reportedly been slow to investigate and improve testing processes.  WADA, however, has no powers to sanction Kenya’s sports authorities or that of any other country.  WADA’s Vice Chairman Arne Ljungqvist reportedly has said that “WADA needs to be able to force governments and sports to take the necessary action because it cannot do the job alone.

The new WADA code provisions come into effect on January 1, 2015.