15 June 2016

Russian Duma approves criminalisation of doping

Russia has today adopted amendments to its criminal code that will criminalise violations of anti-doping legislation. ‘The State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation adopted amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, introducing criminal liability for violation of anti-doping legislation’, read a statement. ‘In particular, the amendments introduce criminal responsibility for inducing the coach of an athlete, a specialist in sports medicine or other specialist in the field of physical culture and sport to use substances and (or) methods that are prohibited in sports’.

The measures also propose the criminalisation of the application of prohibited substances or methods to an athlete by a coach, sports medicine specialist or athlete support personnel without that athlete’s consent. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, as well as the ability to ban individuals from holding certain positions for a specified period. The passage of the Bill comes just two days before the Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will take its decision on whether to readmit Russia ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics, on 17 June.

A number of amendments were made made by the government, after the Bill was introduced to the Duma on 25 March. They included inconsistencies such as maximum imprisonment penalties for offences that resulted in the death of an athlete that exceeded those for manslaughter. The government was also critical that the Bill does not consider the liability of the athlete.

At yesterday’s Culture Media and Sport (CMS) Committee meeting regarding blood doping in athletics, Ministers of the UK Parliament heard that criminalisation of doping might force anti-doping organisations (ADOs) to consider the motives of the athlete for cheating. Cyclist Dan Stevens argued that athletes are often sanctioned when they have taken a substance (e.g. a cold remedy) with no intention of cheating, and criminalisation might force ADOs to examine the motive of the athlete in closer detail, rather than just issuing a standard ban.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) doesn’t support the idea of criminalising doping. Currently, when an athlete signs an agreement with a national federation or international federation to participate in elite sport, they are required to agree to settle all disagreements outside of courts of law, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Criminalisation of doping would require doping cases to be heard within a country’s legal framework, including bringing into play the rights and  legal protections that this offers to the athlete.

Keeping cases outside of the legal framework allows sport to take decisions that might otherwise be considered to infringe those legal protections. For example, the ‘whereabouts’ requirements under the World Anti-Doping Code are widely considered to infringe EU data protection legislation. Speed skater Claudia Pechstein is currently attempting to argue that a ban has been unfairly implemented on her, however recently faced the barrier that when she signed her athlete agreement, she agreed to arbitrate all cases at the CAS. Criminalisation of doping would require cases such as Pechstein’s to be considered within the full gamut of the law, which could be why WADA doesn’t support such moves.

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