Flawed Rodchenkov Act dangers a return to anti-doping chaos

Flawed Rodchenkov Act risks a return to anti-doping chaos

Be careful with your wishes. The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is designed to protect clean sports and has the opposite effect.

The law, as it was submitted to the US Senate for approval, is seriously flawed and will do more harm than good in many ways in the global fight against doping in sports.

Athletes benefit when the rules are clear, implemented equally and consistently for everyone without fear or favor.

You benefit when the fraudsters are caught and when they face sanctions. The current system makes this possible. It may not catch all the scammers, but it is more efficient than ever.

In 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) set up an Intelligence and Investigation Division (I & I) and a global anti-doping hotline called "Speak Up!" Enable whistleblowers to provide critical information for investigations.

Since then, WADA I & I has conducted more than 15 major investigations that resulted in the suspension of hundreds of athletes, coaches, and sports officials who attempted to defraud the system.

More than 80 percent of the investigative cases carried out by WADA were initiated by information obtained through Speak Up! and WADA has never been able to handle cases without the involvement of whistleblowers or whistleblowers.

Make no mistake, if Rodchenkov's law is included in a law, WADA's proven ability to investigate will be impaired. There is no other way to see it.

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is named after exiled whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov © Getty ImagesThe Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is named after exiled whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov © Getty Images

Consider a typical whistleblower. A team doctor or other member of the support staff who cares intensely about the health and well-being of the athletes and the integrity of the sport is under pressure to support athletes in accessing and taking performance-enhancing medication.

She reluctantly agrees. After some time struggling with her conscience, she finally takes the courage to get clean and reports on Speak Up! or a similar vehicle provided by their National Anti-Doping Organization.

How could WADA make an agreement with this whistleblower in exchange for their collaboration if there were laws that would allow them to be prosecuted? The Rodchenkov Act and other similar laws would expose you to criminal prosecution in various extra-territorial jurisdictions.

There is no legal certainty for these whistleblowers in exchange for being clean and providing valuable information. The Rodchenkov Act will prevent people from providing information.

Over the past 20 years, governments (led by the United States government) and the sports community have built a unique anti-doping system.

The World Anti-Doping Code and international standards, together with the anti-doping conventions of UNESCO and the Council of Europe, form the backbone of an ever-changing legal framework that is implemented worldwide and, as far as I know, is unparalleled in other regulated areas of the world.

Think about what the world of anti-doping was like in 1999, when WADA was founded before the World Anti-Doping Code harmonized it and before the other instruments were created.

Each international sports association and government had its own independent rules without coherence or harmonization. Fraudulent athletes could be suspended in one sport or jurisdiction but could participate in another.

Such a set of rules no longer exists and this benefits sport enormously. It has been replaced by a robust and harmonized system that ensures that the rules are the same no matter who you are, where you are or what sport you do.

The intention behind the Rodchenkov Act is to strengthen the current regulations. However, if it is passed without change, it will not achieve its goal. By providing a second, globally applicable level of legislation, the Rodchenkov Act threatens to undermine the accepted and successful global anti-doping system.

Frankly, it invites other governments to do so, and maybe not for the benefit of American athletes. Other governments are expected to retaliate, jump on the train, and implement their own hastily considered laws.

The Rodchenkov Act has revived the debate about doping in sport © Getty ImagesThe Rodchenkov Act has revived the debate about doping in sport © Getty Images

In short, this law will reinstate the chaos of 20 years ago. What rules will apply? The World Anti-Doping Code, U.S. Law, or other rules implemented by other countries? How will this legal confusion help athletes?

Another element to consider is the impact of the Rodchenkov Act on the organizers of major sporting events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games. For reasons of reasoning, what would happen if a systemic doping program were introduced at the Tokyo Olympics next year?

This law does not explain how the United States intends to use it to seize Japanese law or the World Anti-Doping Code and take control of where it belongs. The same applies to the other games, whether in Beijing, Paris or Los Angeles. What will the rules be like?

There appear to be gaps and uncertainties in legislation that will directly affect sovereign nations. For example, there is no clarity about the serious criminal sanctions that the U.S. wants to impose on non-U.S. citizens for activities outside of U.S. borders, such as those who may be fined (up to $ 1 million ( £ 800,000 / EUR 890,000)) who is up to 10 years in prison and which is subject to an undefined loss of wealth by the US government.

Some aspects of the Rodchenkov Act are welcome. It is a commendable and positive development that the protection of clean sports is on the US legislative agenda. Any attempt to improve the fight against doping is very much welcomed by the international community.

Indeed, it is encouraging to see governments use their legislative powers to protect clean sport, and the Rodchenkov Act is no different.

In particular, the proposed measures to combat international doping fraud conspiracies and to facilitate the exchange of information with the United States Anti-Doping Agency are excellent. These measures are in line with the World Anti-Doping Code and the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport.

In this respect, those who drafted the law seem to have done so for the right reasons.

However, good intentions are not enough. They do not document the weaknesses of the bill. It is significant that this legislation is not widely accepted even in America.

The debate over the status of American professional sports leagues continues © Getty ImagesThe debate over the status of American professional sports leagues continues © Getty Images

Originally, it was intended to encompass all of U.S. sports as well as international competition. In a later rewriting, however, the extremely popular professional leagues and university sports were no longer bound by the provisions of this bill for unclear reasons. If it's not good enough for these sports, why should it matter to the rest of the world?

Some of the shortcomings in the bill are most likely due to the fact that there has been no real public debate about it. The bill has been approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate Trade Committee without proper hearings, without the elected members hearing the views of WADA, the global regulator in this area, and without formal consultation with the international community of stakeholders that will be adversely affected, some of whom have expressed great concern about the bill.

Before the law is passed, it would be expected that a thorough analysis of how this proposed law will affect other nations and what the consequences could be for the global anti-doping framework would be expected.

Given the motive behind drafting the law to protect clean sports, it would be ironic and unfortunate if this actually had the opposite effect.

This is exactly what will happen if this bill is passed without change.


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