Athletes Welcome Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act After WADA Backs Some Aspects But Warns Of ‘Disruption’ & Slams U.S. Pro & College Exclusions

2020-12-05 Reading Time: 7 minutes
Doping, the bane of clean sport, the fuel of cheats and rogues - sketch courtesy SwimSketch, mirroring

The “Clean Sport Movement” has been strengthened by the Passing of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act in the United States as far as Global Athlete and peer representative bodies are concerned despite the reservations of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), including criticism that the Act excludes “the hugely popular and influential professional and college leagues”.

Global Athlete has been a strong supporter of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act and now says that it is “thrilled” that the Act has now been signed into law after unanimous, bipartisan backing and consent by the US Senate. The act of passing the Act “will enhance clean sport efforts globally”, says Global Athlete, adding:

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA) comes at a crucial time for the international fight against doping in sport. The Russian doping fraud scandal shook the very foundation of the global anti-doping system, a system that continues to reveal its weaknesses. This Act will greatly enhance the fight against doping by creating additional legal tools to help guard against the type of behavior discovered in the Russian doping scandal, and most recently, in the Biathlon and Weightlifting doping scandals.

Global Athlete says that “by criminalizing international doping conspiracies, RADA provides law enforcement with a greater ability to investigate, pursue, and ultimately hold doping fraud perpetrators accountable.”

In addition, making the facilitation of doping use a crime “will provide doping whistleblowers the same protections that are given to whistleblowers of other serious crimes,” says Global Athlete. It further noted:

Importantly, the Act excludes criminalizing the conduct of athletes, recognizing that the focus must be on the support personnel, corrupt administrators, criminal traffickers, and those others who perpetuate doping networks.

The statement from the athlete-representative organisation follows a far more skeptical and critical response from WADA, which noted last month: “… while recognizing positive elements of this legislation, WADA and other stakeholders continue to believe that some very important elements of the Act will have unintended consequences and will disrupt the global legal anti-doping framework recognized to date by 190 nations, including the U.S.”

One of WADA’s key concerns about the Act was highlighted by WADA President Witold Bańka when he said last month: “We join other stakeholders around the globe in asking why this U.S. legislation, which purports to protect athletes and claims jurisdiction overseas, specifically excludes the hugely popular and influential professional and college leagues.

“Nearly half a million athletes compete in U.S. college sports, and thousands more in the professional leagues. These leagues were originally included in the Act but were subsequently removed without explanation. Why are those who surround the athletes in these associations and leagues now exempt from the scope of this legislation? If it is not good enough for American sports, why is it being imposed on the rest of the world?”

The statement from Global Athlete was bolstered by similar support for the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act from the FairSport advocacy group (see statement in full at the foot of this article).

WADA recently published the ‘conclusions and potential improvements’ that resulted from the third annual audit of the Agency’s independent Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) Department, conducted between August and October this year.

WADA’s Director of Intelligence and Investigations, Gunter Younger, noted the role of an audit of the “independent branch within WADA” in adhering to “best practices in terms of transparency, but most importantly, to showcase the professionalism and integrity of our Department to maintain the confidence of our stakeholders, athletes and potential whistleblowers worldwide”.

The Independent Supervisor [Jacques Antenen, currently Commander of the Vaud Cantonal Police in Switzerland and a former Investigating Judge of the Canton of Vaud and Special Federal Prosecutor of the Swiss Confederation] rated the I&I unit and its quality of work as “exceptional”. Said Younger: “This is entirely thanks to the calibre and commitment of our now 14-member investigations team that works tirelessly to bring cheats to justice and to defend the integrity of sport on a daily basis.”.

Valentin Balakhnichev, the ex- head of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) and former treasurer of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and Papa Massata Diack, the son of convicted IAAF boss Lamine Diack, were both handed prison sentences as a corruption trial linked to Russian doping cover-ups came to an end at the Paris Criminal Court. 

In 2017, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld lifetime bans handed to both Balaknichev and Diack Jnr by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Banned from athletics for life in 2016 over his role at a time of a doping crisis in Russian sport, Balakhnichev, head of Russian athletics from 1990 to 2015, was not present when his sentence was handed down. He had refused to cooperate with investigations that led to him being put on trial.

Convictions In The Shadows Of World Sport

This year witnessed several doping-related legal decisions against leading sports governance figures. After Lamine Diack, the former president of the IAAF, now renamed World Athletics, was jailed for two years for corruption after being found guilty of accepting bribes from Russia to cover up doping, Valentin Balakhnichev, the ex- head of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) and former treasurer of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and Papa Massata Diack, the son Lamine Diack, were both handed prison sentences as corruption trials linked to Russian doping cover-ups came to an end at the Paris Criminal Court.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) heralded the court verdict against Lamine Diack as a “victory for athletes and for clean sport”. WADA President Witold Bańka said: 

“This is a victory for athletes and for clean sport. It shows that no one is above the law. It is particularly encouraging when sports-related corruption is being taken seriously by criminal justice systems around the world, and the French authorities are to be congratulated for their diligence and commitment.”

WADA On The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act

WADA expressed its concerns about the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act in various statements of late. Here is the latest one of those, with links to related issues and releases:

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) maintains its concern following yesterday’s decision by the United States (U.S.) Senate to pass the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019 (Rodchenkov Act).

WADA supports Governments who use their legislative powers to protect athletes in the fight against doping in sport. However, while recognizing positive elements of this legislation, WADA and other stakeholders continue to believe that some very important elements of the Act will have unintended consequences and will disrupt the global legal anti-doping framework recognized to date by 190 nations, including the U.S., through the UNESCO International Convention Against Doping in Sport. WADA and many other organizations representing governments and sports around the world, including from within the Council of Europe, the International Olympic Committee and a number of Anti-Doping Organizations, have expressed concerns around the issue of extraterritoriality in the Act as it will undermine the fight against doping worldwide.

No nation has ever before asserted criminal jurisdiction over doping offences that occurred outside its national borders – and for good reason. It is likely to lead to overlapping laws in different jurisdictions that will compromise having a single set of anti-doping rules for all sports and all Anti-Doping Organizations under the World Anti-Doping Code (Code). This will have negative consequences as harmonization of the rules is at the very core of the global anti-doping system. 

WADA remains concerned that by unilaterally exerting U.S. criminal jurisdiction over all global doping activity, the Act will likely undermine clean sport by jeopardizing critical partnerships and cooperation between nations. Further, the Act could impede the capacity to benefit from whistleblowers by exposing them to possible prosecution and preventing ‘substantial assistance’ deals in line with the provisions of the Code. 

This Act may lead to other nations adopting similar legislation, thereby subjecting U.S. citizens and sport bodies to similar extraterritorial jurisdictions and criminal sanctions, many of which may be political in nature or imposed to discriminate against specific nationalities. This will be detrimental to anti-doping efforts everywhere, including in the U.S.

WADA President Witold Bańka said: “We join other stakeholders around the globe in asking why this U.S. legislation, which purports to protect athletes and claims jurisdiction overseas, specifically excludes the hugely popular and influential professional and college leagues. Nearly half a million athletes compete in U.S. college sports, and thousands more in the professional leagues. These leagues were originally included in the Act but were subsequently removed without explanation. Why are those who surround the athletes in these associations and leagues now exempt from the scope of this legislation? If it is not good enough for American sports, why is it being imposed on the rest of the world? 

“While the Act was passed without consultation with international anti-doping partners, WADA will seek to work with U.S. authorities on implementing this legislation to ensure that the global anti-doping system, which has evolved for 20 years in close collaboration with the U.S., is not upended, that WADA’s mandated investigative capacity is not diminished, and that the negative impact of this Act is minimized.”

Witold Bańka

Statement From FairSport

Five years ago, Grigory Rodchenkov started his journey to expose the Russian doping machine when he escaped from certain prison and probable death in Russia and flew to America. After being exposed by Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov in their groundbreaking and brave whistleblowing disclosures, Grigory quickly became the fall guy for the system.

His life at risk, and acting upon the outstretched hand of filmmaker Bryan Fogel, Dr. Rodchenkov fled to Los Angeles with his computer and his extensive diaries and began to work on documenting his leadership of the Russian doping program. All of this was captured vividly in the Oscar®-winning documentary film Icarus.

The producers of Icarus, recognizing the need to effect lasting change in the sports world, took their proceeds from the successful sale of the film to start FairSport, to help whistleblowers in sport, including the continuation of Dr. Rodchenkov’s work.

Working hand in hand with Dr. Rodchenkov, his attorneys, the Helsinki Commission, Global Athlete and the United States Anti-Doping Agency, FairSport has played an active role in bringing the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA) to passage.

FairSport was formed to support sport whistleblowers like Dr. Rodchenkov who have no institutional or public support as they seek to tell their stories. In addition to furthering the passage of RADA, Rodchenkov’s testimony has aided the Court of Arbitration in Sport and numerous sport governing bodies in effectuating suspension of many Olympic Athletes, annulling numerous podium finishes and forcing the rightful reallocation of major event medals to their rightful owners.

The passage of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act marks a great day for clean athletes of the world. The sponsors and providers of doping inducements, particularly in coordinated and organized State programs, will now for the first time be liable for their actions and subject to severe financial and legal penalties. For the first time there will be real deterrence for doping violations and the state sponsored corruption and criminal activities that go along with it.

Jim Swartz, Johann Koss, Co-Founders of FairSport

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