Running a doping program could soon be a criminal offense in the US

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The fight against doping in the United States took a significant leap forward on Monday with the passage of a landmark bill through the US Senate.

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019 will make it “unlawful to knowingly influence (or attempt or conspire to influence) a major international sports competition by use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method.”

Individuals found in violation of the law will be fined $250,000 and could face up to 10 years in prison. Any equipment “used or intended to be used to commit an offense” could be seized and forfeited to the US government.

The Act, which passed the US House of Representatives in October 2019, focuses less on individual athletes involved in doping, and instead targets those orchestrating doping programs. More specifically, the act, as passed by the US Senate, reads:

“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.”

The Act’s international focus has attracted criticism from both the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee, with both organisations concerned about the “extra-territoriality” of the Act. As it’s currently written, the Act extends to any international sporting competition which features US athletes and which is linked financially with the US or a US business.

In March 2020 WADA President Witold Banka said “The bill in its current form could lead to overlapping laws in different jurisdictions that would compromise having a single set of rules for all athletes, all sports and all anti-doping organizations that are subject to the World Anti-Doping Code. This harmonization of rules is at the very core of the global anti-doping program.”

On Monday the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) hailed the unopposed passage of the new bill through the Senate. “The Act will provide the tools needed to protect clean athletes and hold accountable international doping conspiracies that defraud sport, sponsors and that harm athletes,” the organisation said via a press release. “The Act establishes criminal penalties for systems that carry out doping-fraud schemes that rob athletes, citizens and businesses. It also protects whistleblowers from retaliation and provides restitution for athletes defrauded by conspiracies to dope.

“It is a monumental day in the fight for clean sport worldwide and we look forward to seeing the Act soon become law and help change the game for clean athletes for the good.”

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is named after Russian whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov who assisted in state-sponsored doping through Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory over the course of a decade. His story is the subject of the award-winning documentary film Icarus.

While Monday’s passage through the senate is good news for the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019, it hasn’t yet been enshrined in law. It will first need to be signed off by the US president.

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