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Friday, December 04, 2020

Explained: Why is a US anti-doping Act with a Russian name being seen as controversial?

The US anti-doping Act will target those involved in international dope fraud conspiracies even if it happens outside the United States

Written by Nihal Koshie , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 23, 2020 9:28:01 am
Explained: Why is a US anti-doping Act with a Russian name being seen as controversialThe main objective of the Rodchenkov Act is to bring to book facilitators who otherwise got away when athletes who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances were banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code.(Representational Image)

The Rodchenkov Act was passed by the Senate on Monday and will become a law once the US president signs it. It allows the USA to initiate legal proceedings against those involved in running doping rings, including coaches, officials, managers or suppliers even if they are not residents of the United States or if the act of doping took place outside the United States.

Does it target athletes?

The main objective of the Rodchenkov Act is to bring to book facilitators who otherwise got away when athletes who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances were banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. The Act seeks to criminalise ‘major international dope fraud conspiracies’, which is mentioned in Section 4 of the Act.

The Act accounts for a scenario where doping fraud conspiracies ‘may not support the use of existing laws’ and gives the example of Russia’s systematic doping during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and in other ‘major international competitions’.

Section 4 makes it clear that the Act is not targeting individual athletes who test positive (they are covered under the World Anti-Doping Agency Code). “It shall be unlawful for any person, other than an athlete, to knowingly carry into effect, attempt to carry into effect, or conspire with any other person to carry into effect a scheme in commerce to influence by use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method any major international sports competition.”

However, the law considers athletes who miss out because of those who cheated and finished ahead of them as an aggrieved party. Sponsors and broadcasters who have been affected because of a doping scandal at an event could also receive restitution, like athletes.

What does the Act cover?

The Act will cover any ‘major international competition’ where one or more athletes from the United States participates and three or more from other countries are present. The Act also covers events where the competition organiser or sanctioned body has received sponsorship or funding from an organisation doing business in the United States, and the broadcaster has bought the rights to telecast in the United States. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What is the punishment under the Act?

An offence will attract imprisonment of upto 10 years and a fine of upto $250,000 for individuals. Fines can go upto $1 million if a syndicate, lab or organisation is found to be indulging in doping related activities. Properties can also be seized, including those belonging to a private individual.

So can someone in India be charged under the act?

Yes, it appears so. A hypothetical example would be if it is proven that an Indian coach, who is part of a doping syndicate, provided performance-enhancing substances to athletes who won medals at an international competition and this resulted in American athletes missing out on podium places. It may be difficult to extradite the person to the United States, but once charged a citizen of another country will have to be wary of travelling outside her/his country, especially for competitions at venues where investigators could conduct questioning and try and piece together evidence to make their case stronger.

Why does the bill have a Russian-sounding name?

The bill is named after Grigory Rodchenkov, a former director of Russia’s anti-doping lab. Rodchenkov had moved to the USA and turned whistleblower after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Rodchenkov was part of the system which helped Russia athletes dope without getting caught. One of the ways was to allow swapping of urine samples with stored clean ones.

What followed Rodchenkov’s revelations?

Rodchenkov’s testimony and an independent report by professor Richard McLaren, which concluded that at least 1,000 Russian athletes benefitted from doping, resulted in the nation being banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Manipulation of data by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency lab resulted in the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) in December handing a four-year ban to Russia. The ban is being challenged in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Why is the World Anti-Doping Agency unhappy?

The World Anti-Doping Agency already has a code in place which is used to sanction athletes, including life bans. This is what WADA said in a statement: “It is likely to overlap laws in different jurisdictions that will compromise having a single set of anti-doping rules for all sports and all anti-doping organisations under the WADA code.” WADA has also expressed concern that future whistleblowers could be wary of spilling the beans because of the two sets of rules, the WADA code and the Rodchenkov Act, under which they could be potentially prosecuted. WADA also questioned why professional athletes and college athletes in the USA, who were included in the original draft, were not covered now.

So the Act does not cover professional athletes and college athletes in the USA?

That is right. The Act excludes professional athletes and college athletes in the USA because these athletes are subject to different laws formed by what is called ‘collective bargaining’, similar to how unions negotiate with corporations. The National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association and the Professional Golfers’ Association are not signatories of the WADA code. These athletes if found positive are suspended for a season, compared to athletes covered by the WADA code who face much longer bans. Professional and college athletes can be subject to testing under the WADA code in the lead up to international competition like the Olympics Games, the United States Anti-Doping Agency says on its website.

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Does India have a similar law?

The National Anti-Doping Bill had sought to criminalise doping in India with an imprisonment of four years and a fine of Rs 10 lakh. The bill had proposed to cover athletes and coaches but further amendments have been made. Athletes who test positive are unlikely to face criminal charges under the revised bill and will face sanction as per the WADA Code, sources said. WADA, in the past, has been opposed to making doping a criminal offence for athletes. However the German parliament in 2015 had passed an anti-doping law which includes jail term and fines for coaches, athletes and managers who use or possess performance-enhancing drugs.

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