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Rodchenkov Act – Positive Legislation Caught Up in Bluster of Russian Doping Crisis?

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A woman walks into the head office for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on November 9, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

By Michael Pavitt |

A row has broken out in the anti-doping world. Quelle surprise.

The latest bickering is centred on the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA), which is gradually clearing the hurdles required to become enacted into law in the United States.

Assessing from a safe distance from the World Conference of Doping in Sport in Katowice, I wonder whether the issue is not the act itself, but the environment it has been introduced in.

The act appears to have fallen victim to being misrepresented by both sides, after being tossed into the bear pit of the Russian doping crisis. This seems a clear consequence of attaching Rodchenkov’s name to the bill with all the history it entails.

Champions of the act have perhaps been guilty of over-hyping its potential impact.

United States Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart said last year that RADA could be a “game-changing Bill that will transform anti-doping for the better and forever at a time when the clean sport movement needs it most”.

Similarly, FairSport, an independent foundation striving to eradicate doping in sport, said the act had the power to “permanently change the clean sport movement” and represented “far-reaching change”.

And earlier this week Global Athlete’s Rob Koehler questioned why would anyone advocating clean sport would lobby against the law “given the bill’s ability to eradicate the people who are enabling doping”.

Rodchenkov’s lawyer Jim Walden has reportedly claimed the fact the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not wholeheartedly support the act demonstrated they did not support clean sport. (As an aside, we are still no closer to knowing the extremely suspicious cases in British sport that Rodchenkov spoke of at the start of 2018).

Given the act’s apparent ability to cure some of the biggest ills of anti-doping, does it not make sense for the WADA and IOC to take an interest in its passage and discuss potential consequences?

Critics of the act have claimed it could criminalise international athletes, while there remains an ongoing argument over anti-doping efforts in the United States towards professional sports in America like the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, who refuse to sign up to the World Anti-Doping Code.

While the latter point is interesting, it seems irrelevant to the debate over the powers of the act.

The first point also seems a misrepresentation of what the act is about, with US officials insisting athletes would not be punished under criminal rules but under the existing sport anti-doping system.

While this might be the case, claims the act will “provide for restitution to athletes and others who may have been defrauded by those individuals who are found to be doping and using performance-enhancing drugs” could have been made clearer.

At best it is ambiguous and has unsurprisingly led to the impression athletes could be pursued.

Instead of criminalizing athletes, the focus is expected to be on those outside sport’s anti-doping system, from doctors and coaches through to sport administrators.

A parallel has been drawn to the powers used by US authorities in the FIFA corruption cases, which undoubtedly had a positive and lasting impact.

I think most people would support increased action against entourage and corrupt administrators. After all, IOC President Thomas Bach said earlier this week that “we cannot just sanction the athlete and let the others go”.

The bill is expected to apply to all major international sport competitions in which American athletes participate, as well as where organisers receive sponsorship from companies doing business in the US or are compensated for the right to broadcast their competition in the country.

Lawmakers have stated penalties would include fines of up to $1 million (£790,000/€870,000) or imprisonment of up to ten years, depending on the offence.

It has been claimed criminalising those individuals would ensure they do not benefit from fraud. 

Fines and jail terms has been viewed as having the potential to protect investment from sponsors and broadcasters of sport, as well as compensating athletes.

There is a question as to how this would be achievable.

My mind drifts somewhat into Lance Armstrong territory here with the United States, with authorities having successfully pursued legal action in fraud cases against the American cyclist. However, they have had less luck seeking money from his former manager Johan Bruyneel.

From the reading of what the act entails, this appears the playing field the act would operate in. (Perhaps it should be named after Bruyneel rather than Rodchenkov?).

Although the power of the act has been hailed, I have my doubts as to how effective it will be if it does come into law.

Will it really be able to recoup money from those involved in cases and redistribute these to athletes?

Where Rodchenkov’s name is fitting would be with the possible increased protection of whistleblowers.

The key to the act could be the increase in powers for US authorities to pursue and obtain evidence in doping cases, with the provision that legal bodies would then share the information with USADA to enable them to take action.

This seems similar to how authorities have acted in Austria and Germany in recent months, with criminal proceedings having proved critical to bringing a doping ring to light and leading to follow ups from anti-doping bodies.

While this would be beneficial, it seems worthwhile for WADA to track how the increasing criminalisation of doping in countries could have any unintended consequences.

If we ignore the bluster from both sides, it appears the act could be positive should it ultimately be passed into law.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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