2 February 2022

A comparison of CrossFit’s Drug Testing Policy and the World Anti-Doping Code

• This article compares CrossFit’s Drug Testing Program and the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), and includes the author’s opinion on how CrossFit’s anti-doping policy could be strengthened.

CrossFit is both an exercise methodology and a competitive sport. Since its inception in California in the early 2000s, it has grown in popularity. There are more than 15,000 CrossFit affiliates around the world, with about 70% in the United States and the remainder in countries all over the world.

As a competitive sport, the CrossFit Games is a multi-stage event starting with the CrossFit Games Open, a worldwide, participatory online three week event. The CrossFit Games season includes several stages, including both in-person and online qualifying events, and culminates in the CrossFit Games, where the ‘Fittest on Earth’ is crowned in open, age group, and adaptive athlete divisions. This author qualified to and competed in the 2021 CrossFit Games, placing 12th in the men’s 55-59 age group division. At the 2021 CrossFit Games, the top three finishers in each division were drug tested.

Unlike many competitive sports, CrossFit does not have an international federation to govern the sport along democratic principles. Rather, the sport is run as a corporation, with corporate officials making all the decisions, without input from a democratically elected representative body. On 24 December 2021, CrossFit announced its Rulebook and Drug Testing Program1 (CFDTP) for the 2022 season.  

The CFDTP is similar to the WADC in that there is a list of prohibited substances, it is a strict liability policy, there are provisions for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) and some appeal rights. The WADC is much more detailed and extensive than the CFDTP. The entire CFDTP is a 14 page document, while the WADC is a 184 page document and also includes several International Standards that contain further requirements and clarifying provisions.

Scope

In order to compete in any CrossFit competition, athletes must agree to comply with the terms of the CFDTP. The CFDTP is much more limited in scope than the WADC. The CFDTP only applies to athletes. The WADC applies to athletes and other persons, which can be Coaches, Administrators, Trainers, Doctors, etc. The WADC has provisions that apply to National Federations, International Federations, Major Event Organisers, Anti-Doping Organisations, and Laboratories that provide drug testing services.

In-competition and out of competition testing

Like the WADC, the CFDTP envisions both in-competition and out of competition testing. However, the competition period is defined slightly differently. The CFDTP defines in competition as the beginning of the ‘registration for the competition and concludes at 11:59 p.m. on the final day of competition’2.

By contrast, the WADC defines in-competition as: ‘The period commencing at 11:59 p.m. on the day before a Competition in which the Athlete is scheduled to participate through the end of such Competition and the Sample collection process related to such Competition’3.

Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs)

The CFDTP mirrors the WADC regarding TUEs. Athletes may apply for a TUE, using a specific form, and by providing medical documentation. A TUE may be approved if the athlete can show that they would experience a significant impairment to health if treatment with a banned substance is withheld, and the banned substance would provide no additional enhancement of performance and there is no other reasonable treatment. Both the CFDTP and WADC have provisions for retroactive TUEs for emergency situations4.

However, as mentioned earlier, the appeal rights are different. Under the WADC, athletes have full appeal rights regarding decisions about TUEs while the CFDTP contains no right to appeal a TUE decision.

Prohibited List and testing

The CFDTP prohibits the following classes of drugs: anabolic agents, street drugs, diuretics, peptide hormones, hormone and metabolic modulators, and beta-2 agonists5. CrossFit has adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List.  

One significant change to the 2021 WADC that the 2022 CFDTP did not adopt regards substances of abuse. According to the WADC, designated substances of abuse are cocaine, heroin, MDMA/ecstasy, and THC. If the athlete tests positive for a substance of abuse, and can show that the use was out of competition and unrelated to sport performance, the sanction is three months. This sanction can be further reduced to one month if the athlete completes a drug education programme6. The CFDTP continues to treat ‘street drugs’ the same as any other substance on its Prohibited List.

For testing and analysis, the CFDTP specifies that this must be performed at a WADA-approved Laboratory, following WADC standards for testing and analysis7.

Registered Testing Pool (RTP) and procedure for unannounced tests

Similar to the WADC, the CFDTP contains a provision for a RTP where certain athletes are subject to random, unannounced tests8. Also similar to the WADC, athletes in the CrossFit RTP must provide quarterly whereabouts updates so that they can be located. However, the actual out of competition obligation on athletes is quite different.  

According to the WADC, athletes must indicate a one hour window in which they are available for unannounced, out of competition testing. A doping control officer will go to the address where the athlete indicated they will be,  will attempt to locate the athlete, and then collect a sample for drug testing.  If the athlete cannot be located in the designated one hour window after reasonable attempts to locate the athlete, that is considered a missed test.  

According to the CFDTP, athletes must only provide the address where they will be, and must be able to present themselves for testing at that address within 12 hours of contact from CrossFit.

Violations

The WADC has a more extensive list of violations than the CFDTP.  The CFDTP lists the following violations:

• Positive drug test result: indicates the presence of a prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers in an athlete’s blood or urine sample
• Substitution, manipulation, tampering, or adulteration of a sample as determined by the collection agent or laboratory
• Use, attempted use, or possession by an athlete of a prohibited substance
• Use or attempted use by an athlete of a prohibited method
• Evading, refusing, or failing to submit to a drug test
• Trafficking or attempted trafficking of any prohibited substance or prohibited method

Whereabouts violations:

• Athlete fails to submit required quarterly whereabouts information to CrossFit by the specified deadline
• Athlete fails to update their whereabouts information as required
• Athlete provides whereabouts information that is incomplete or inaccurate and does not allow them to be reasonably located for the purpose of drug testing
• Athlete misses test for any reason9

The WADC lists the following anti-doping rule violations10:

2.1.  Presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers in an Athlete’s Sample
2.2.  Use or Attempted Use by an Athlete of a Prohibited Substance or a Prohibited Method
2.3 Evading, Refusing or Failing to Submit to Sample Collection by an Athlete
2.4 Whereabouts Failures by an Athlete
2.5 Tampering or Attempted Tampering with any Part of Doping Control by an Athlete or Other Person
2.6 Possession of a Prohibited Substance or a Prohibited Method by an Athlete or Athlete Support Person
2.7 Trafficking or Attempted Trafficking in any Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method by an Athlete or Other Person
2.8 Administration or Attempted Administration by an Athlete or Other Person to any Athlete In-Competition of any Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method, or Administration or Attempted Administration to any Athlete Out-of-Competition of any Prohibited Substance or any Prohibited Method that is Prohibited Out-of-Competition
2.9 Complicity or Attempted Complicity by an Athlete or Other Person
2.10 Prohibited Association by an Athlete or Other Person Acts by an Athlete or Other Person to Discourage or Retaliate Against Reporting to Authorities

Most of the violations are similar, but the list of possible violations in the WADC is significant because of its broader scope. While the CFDTP is aimed at athletes, the WADC is also aimed at Coaches, Trainers, and Officials, who may commit anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) such as Trafficking, Complicity, Retaliation, or Administration of a prohibited method.

Notably, the CFDTP is stricter than the WADC in one respect: Whereabouts. According to the WADC, a combination of three Filing Failures or Missed Tests in a 12 month period constitutes an anti-doping rule violation11. The CFDTP offers no such leniency and any filing failure or missed test is considered a violation of the CFDTP.

Sanctions

One of the biggest differences between the CFDTP and the WADC is the system of sanctions. The CFDTP states that any violation of the CFDTP is subject to sanction at the sole discretion of CrossFit on a case-by-case basis12. The CFDTP does state that a standard sanction is four years, but it has been known to impose sanctions of greater or lesser duration and the CFDTP does not specify what factors may affect the length of sanction. 

The types of sanctions possible under the CFDTP are similar to the types of sanctions available under the WADC: suspension, loss of individual results, loss of team results, disqualification, and loss of prize money. However, the WADC specifies the sanction for each offence. For example, the presence of a specified substance will result in a four year suspension, disqualification of results and loss of prizes, while presence of a substance of abuse will result in a three month suspension13.

Moreover, the WADC allows for reduction of sanction in certain circumstances such as no fault or negligence, no significant fault, acceptance of sanction without contesting, and substantial assistance. The WADC also has provisions for aggravating circumstances where an increase in sanction may be imposed14. The CFDTP allows for CrossFit to determine each sanction on a case-by-case basis for reasons of its own choosing. 

Appeal rights

The CFDTP has a significantly different appeal process than the WADC.  The WADC encompasses a system where the results management authority issues a decision, and then the athlete has the right to a first instance hearing in front of an operationally independent panel of individuals different to the individuals who made the initial decision, and an appeal hearing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which will conduct a de novo review. WADA also acts in a supervisory role, and can appeal decisions of an anti-doping organisation if WADA believes that the anti-doping organisation has misapplied the WADC15.

The CFDTP has a much more limited and time-sensitive appeal process.  To exercise his or her appeal rights, the athlete must notify CrossFit of his or her intention to appeal, request analysis of the B-sample, and request documents16. Then, the athlete has ten business days to request an appeal and hearing and submit documents. A hearing may be held, at CrossFit’s discretion, by a panel of individuals appointed by CrossFit. There is no further right to appeal against CrossFit’s appeal panel.

As part of the appeal process under the WADC, the results management authority must publish a reasoned decision setting forth the findings and reasonings17. CFDTP contains no such right to a published decision. CrossFit does publish announcements of violations of the drug testing policy which usually specify the substance at issue and the length of suspension, but do not detail the facts presented at the hearing, how CrossFit determined that there was a violation of the CFDTP or how CrossFit determined the appropriate sanction to impose.

Recognition of Decisions by other anti-doping authorities

The CFDTP specifically states that it may recognise the sanctions imposed by other drug-testing authorities18. Signatories to the WADA must recognise sanctions imposed by other signatories to the WADC, but are not obligated to recognise sanctions applied by non-WADA signatories.

Recommendations

In this author’s opinion, the CFDTP is lacking in specificity, transparency and athletes due process rights. The CFDTP needs to be more specific in how it applies sanctions and determines the length of suspension. The policy of deciding each suspension on a case-by-case basis is inconsistent with modern notions of sports jurisprudence and athlete rights. 

The CFDTP could also be improved with publication of reasoned decisions where CrossFit explains how it reached its decision. These increases in specificity, transparency, and due process rights would increase the confidence athletes have that they are competing in clean sport, and increase the legitimacy of CrossFit as a fair organisation.

Footnotes

1. https://games.crossfit.com/announcement/13218/games
2. CFDTP 4 
3. WADC Appendix 1
4. CFDTP Article 18 and WADC Article 4.4 and the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exceptions (ISTUE)
5. CFDTP Appendix A
6. WADC Article 4.2.3
7. CFDTP Article 9
8. CFDTP 5
9. CFDTP 11
10. WADC Article 2
11. WADC Article 2.4
12. CFDTP Article 12
13. WADC Articles 10.2.1 and 10.2.4.1
14. WADC Articles 10.3 through 10.7
15. WADC Article 8
16. FDTP Article 13
17. WADC Article 8.1 and 14.3
18. CFDTP Article 11

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