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WADA: Doping should not be a criminal offense

The World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] issued a statement Sunday saying that it does not believe doping should be made a criminal offense for athletes. Responding to “recent commentary via the media suggesting that doping in sport should be made a criminal offence for athletes,” WADA stated that the organization “does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people.”

Pointing to the existing process, which includes a right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for every athlete, as well as a longer, four-year period of ineligibility for serious doping offenses, WADA stated that the current system has “been globally accepted by sport and government,” while acknowledging that, “countries that have introduced criminal legislation for doping have been effective in catching athlete support personnel that possess or traffic performance enhancing drugs.”

The announcement was made in conjunction with the start of Play The Game, a biannual international conference, held in Denmark, focused on “strengthening the ethical foundation of sport” and “promoting democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in sport.”

Earlier this year, the German government passed draft legislation making it illegal for athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs inside Germany’s borders. The law cites jail terms of up to three years for professional athletes caught using or possessing performance-enhancing drugs. The law, which still must be approved by Germany’s parliament, would affect the approximately 7,000 elite athletes who are subject to the regulations of Germany’s National Anti Doping Agency (NADA). It does not apply to amateur athletes.

Several of Germany’s neighbors — France, Italy, and Austria — have passed legislation that has also criminalized doping.

The German Olympic sports association has voiced reservations, saying the authority of sports federations’ own disciplinary bodies could be affected. A December 2014 Vice Sports editorial, titled “Germany’s Absurd New PED Law and Why It Won’t Fix Anything,” argued that pressure on athletes, whether based on financial incentives or performance, is overwhelming and all encompassing.

On Monday, The Daily Mail reported that Colin Moynihan, Lord of the British Olympic Association, has proposed a new law that would see those caught using performance-enhancing drugs sent to prison for up to two years. The article reports that Moynihan hopes the law will be in place for the 2017 world athletics championships in London, the Sunday Times reported. The law would be framed so any athlete, regardless of nationality, caught doping in the UK could be arrested and made to stand trial in the United Kingdom.

WADA’s statement on Sunday echoes a sentiment expressed by its president, Craig Reedie, in November of 2014, in advance of Germany’s anti-doping law.

The full statement:

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has noted the recent commentary via the media suggesting that doping in sport should be made a criminal offence for athletes.

WADA does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people. However the Agency believes that the sanction process for athletes, which includes a right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), is a settled process, accepted by all governments of the world, and further that the sanctions for a doping violation by an athlete, which now includes a longer, four-year period of ineligibility, have been globally accepted by sport and government. As such, the Agency does not believe that doping should be made a criminal offence for athletes.

WADA and its partners in the anti-doping community do however encourage governments to introduce laws that penalize those who are trafficking and distributing banned substances; those individuals who are ultimately putting banned substances into the hands of athletes. This is a commitment that governments made in ratifying the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport in 2005.

The Agency acknowledges that countries that have introduced criminal legislation for doping have been effective in catching athlete support personnel that possess or traffic performance enhancing drugs. It seems that, given the threat of being imprisoned, these personnel are often more cooperative with anti-doping authorities. We have seen evidence of this in Italy, for example, with a large number of Italian nationals currently listed as having ‘disqualifying status’ under the Prohibited Association clause of the Code – a list that was first issued by WADA in September.

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