U.S. lawmakers seek to imprison doping violators

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Submitted by Tuomas Turunen

Apparently, the White House is going to severely punish athletes around the world for anti-doping rule violations during competitions in which the U.S. interests are affected. This goal is to be achieved by passing the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019, named after Grigory Rodchenkov, the informant from Russia who fled to the United States.

This bill may result in fines of up to a million dollars and prison sentences for doping frauds. In addition, the law provides compensation for clean athletes who were affected due to unfair competition of dirty athletes.

The document also indicates that the impact of the bill will apply to all Major International Sports Competitions in which:

  • 1 or more United States athletes and 3 or more athletes from other countries participate; and
  • the competition organizer or sanctioning body receives sponsorship or other financial support from an organization doing business in the United States; or
  • the competition organizer or sanctioning body receives compensation for the right to broadcast the competition in the United States; and
  • includes a competition that is a single event or a competition that consists of a series of events held at different times which, when combined, qualify an athlete or team for an award or other recognition.

(https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/259/text)

In addition, the document notes the doping fraud allegedly causes enormous harm to the U.S. economy. It is expected that the bill will operate within the United States legal framework. It means that all accused persons will be prosecuted by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Moreover, according to generally accepted international practice, upon U.S. request, Interpol may arrest an athlete in any country.

In fact, the Rodchenkov Act indicates a unilateral declaration, whereby the United States will do right to all manner of athletes, regardless of their citizenship.

According to the bill, criminal bans are necessary to prevent doping fraud, even when it occurs at major international competitions outside the United States, as such actions allegedly have or could have a significant impact on the United States, U.S. citizens or corporate sponsors from the United States.

The criminal prosecution for doping is not something new; such practice is used in many European countries, however, a punishment affects only athletes from their national teams.

However, if the offenders are American athletes, the situation becomes not so obvious. So, Christian Coleman, American professional track and field sprinter, missed three doping tests in a row. According to generally accepted rules, each high profile athlete is obliged to report on his movements, so that he could be checked at any time. However, Coleman allegedly forgot about it, thrice. Will the Coleman scenario be appropriately subjected to the Rodchenkov Act?

“Everyone in this room has not been perfect. I am just a young black man living my dream, people are trying to smear my reputation”, said Coleman (https://www.sportresolutions.co.uk/news/view/coleman-wins-100m-gold-at-the-world-championships-who-was-freed-to-race-after-missed-tests-charges-are-dropped).

Coleman went on to become the world champion in the 100-metre dash at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

It is also worth noting that in the major professional sports leagues of North America, the attitude to doping is much more nebulous. The most striking example is the National Hockey League. The NHL is the only major sports organization whose representatives regularly take part in major international competitions. The World Anti-Doping Agency officers are allowed to test NHL hockey players but only during international competitions.

Richard Pound, former WADA president, has repeatedly stated that the league’s anti-doping code is far from perfect. He apparently noted that he believes that a third of all NHL players take substances prohibited by WADA.

A similar situation has developed in the National Basketball Association. Former WADA director general David Howman stated that there are significant gaps in the NBA’s program to combat the use of banned substances.

However, the most outstanding example is the revelation of the former basketball player Stephen Jackson. After his career ended, he told a story that perfectly demonstrates the current attitude to doping in the NBA.

“We’re in Utah and the drug test people are around, you know, to get our last drug test, so we can smoke, right? And Don Nelson, we talked about weed all the time, he was cool with talking about weed. We got our last test in Utah, right? So me and Baron are coming out the locker room just screaming, excited, right, with our last pink slip saying we could smoke for the rest of the season. And Don Nelson hauls ass down there giving us high-fives like, ‘Yeah, we can smoke now!’ It was cool, the fact that he knows what’s going on off the court with his players, which was great, man. We enjoyed it. And that’s why we were a great team.”

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(https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/stephen-jackson-says-he-played-high-don-nelson-was-cool-with-marijuana-talk/)

Local American laboratories, of course, occasionally catch violators from time to time, punishing them with disqualification for a maximum of a couple of dozen matches. By international standards, this is ridiculously small, but the U.S. sports officials do not allow international anti-doping structures in the competitions.

Should professional leagues be subjected to the same laws as international competitions?

However, there is no doubt that WADA and the International Olympic Committee have serious concerns about the Rodchenkov Act’s potential impact.

Sir Craig Reedie, former WADA president, criticized the bill. He said the many aspects of the Act are “acceptable” but what is troublesome is “the suggestion that American jurisdiction would go beyond the U.S. and it might create liability in other parts of the world (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-11/07/c_138534099.htm).” He also noted that $250,000 had been spent “lobbying” against the Act. (https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1086790/wada-opinion-split-over-rodchenkov-act)

Rob Koehler of the athlete’s group Global Athlete said he was similarly surprised, “given the bill’s ability to eradicate the people who are enabling doping.”

The IOC said it was appreciative of efforts to control doping in the United States.

“However, it is a matter of concern that the intention of the proposed legislation is to put athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees from around the world who take part in international competition under the criminal code of U.S. law,” said a statement provided to the AP by an IOC spokesman.(https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2019/11/06/ioc-wada-hire-dc-lobbyists-to-discuss-anti-doping-bill/40559295)

In fact, we are witnessing another legal expansion of the United States. U.S. justice does not just go beyond its borders, but also apparently attempts to invade the space of international sports law, thereby extolling the America first doctrine over the international basic principle “sports and politics don’t mix.”