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Bill to criminalize doping passes through Senate

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is one step closer to becoming law

On Monday, an American bill to criminalize doping passed through the Senate and now awaits the President’s signature. The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act aims to allow American prosecutors to investigate doping at international events where Americans are participants, sponsors or broadcasters. This wouldn’t be aimed at individual athletes, but rather larger doping schemes, including state-sponsored doping programs.

There are several big players in the running world who have helped push this bill forward, most notably, Emma Coburn and Molly Huddle. Coburn is the 2017 steeplechase world champion and Huddle is a nine-time American record-holder. Both women have been long-time advocates for clean sport. Huddle wrote in the Providence Journal last year, “Nothing compares to the Olympic Games as a platform for athletes to become heroes, and four years is a long time to wait for another shot at glory. An elite runner’s whole career may only last eight years. Due to doping, it is now common for results to change months or even years after the last athlete crosses the finish line.”

On top of allowing Americans to investigate international doping cases, the act would also protect whistleblowers and allow athletes to seek restitution when they lose earnings to dopers. While Americans believe this is a huge step in the fight against doping, WADA officials have their concerns. The Associated Press reports that WADA has actively opposed the measure, and budgeted six figures to lobby lawmakers over its concerns about the proposed bill.

IOC headquarters in Lausanne. Photo: IOC/Christophe Moratal

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Today the International Olympic Committee (IOC) joined WADA in its opposition of the bill. WADA and the IOC are concerned about the bill’s ‘extraterritorial’ jurisdiction – “No nation has ever before asserted criminal jurisdiction over doping offences that occurred outside its national borders – and for good reason,” WADA told Reuters – and the fact that while American professional leagues and college sports were originally included, they have since been removed.

“The IOC continues to encourage the U.S. professional leagues, in which the most popular American athletes play, and the U.S. college sports organization (NCAA), from which the vast majority of the most successful U.S. athletes come, to apply the World Anti-Doping Code,” the IOC said in a statement. “Unfortunately, they are exempt from this new Act, and they have so far not accepted the World Anti-Doping Code.”

According to a Reuters report, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) says “there was no need to include US professional and college sports in the legislation since they could already be prosecuted under existing laws.”

The bill is named after Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow’s anti-doping lab, who became the key whistleblower in helping to uncover the Russian state-sponsored doping in the Oscar-winning documentary Icarus.

If passed, the law would call for fines of up to $1 million and prison time of up to 10 years. Coburn took to Twitter to express her excitement on Monday, saying this is a huge step forward for anti-doping measures.