US Senate passes Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act to criminalize doping schemes

The entrance to the anti-doping vehicle at the Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act was approved by the US Senate on Monday, making 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.”

The Act will not criminalise simple acts of doping by individual athletes but instead targets organised doping schemes and programmes at international events in which Americans are involved as athletes, sponsors or broadcasters. 

The crimes would not necessarily have to take place in the United States and this international reach of US law has sparked criticism from the World Anti-Doping Agency because of its  “extraterritorial” jurisdiction.

The Act is named after Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory who blew the whistle on some of Russia’s biggest doping scams to help athletes avoid positive tests during the Sochi Olympic Games in 2014. Rodchenkov also helped filmmaker Bryan Fogel dope to take part in events in Europe with his escape from Russia captured in the Oscar-winning documentary, Icarus.   

The law calls for fines of up to $1 million and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who participate in schemes designed to influence international sports competitions through doping.

Though approved by the US Senate, the Act has still to be enshrined in law and needs to be signed off by the US president.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who famously pursued Lance Armstrong, described the passing of the bill as “ a monumental day in the fight for clean sport worldwide.”

“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,” Tygart said in a USADA statement.

However WADA president Witold Bańka highlighted a contradiction in the Act.  

“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,” he said in a statement from WADA. 

“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?”

WADA accepted that it would work with U.S. authorities on implementing this legislation.

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