The new WADA Code: key changes

The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) have recently approved the 2015 edition of the World Anti-Doping Code. The 2015 code is the result of an extensive 2 year consultation and review process which has been undertaken by WADA and will provide stricter punishments for athletes found guilty of intentionally doping, when it becomes effective from 1 January 2015.

At a time when doping in sport has received considerable press, not least due to the Lance Armstrong scandal and more recent NRL investigation in Australia, it is no surprise that WADA has sought to toughen up sanctions. However, elsewhere within the code more flexibility is being given to those making decisions to provide more lenient sanctions where offenders have mistakenly taken banned substances, or have co-operated with doping investigations.

Although discussion on all of the 2000 plus amendments is beyond the scope of this blog, some of the key changes are considered below:

Tougher penalties for those caught intentionally doping

At present, the 2009 code only provides for a 4 year ban in the presence of ‘aggravating circumstances’. These cases are extremely rare however and following widespread agreement that those caught intentionally cheating should face more severe penalties WADA have introduced 4 year periods of ineligibility, even for first-time offenders.

Increased flexibility for certain penalties

One common complaint amongst those who make decisions regarding bans for doping is that the 2009 code offered very little flexibility to impose anything less than a substantial suspension, even where it was agreed that the athlete in question had not intentionally cheated. Under the new code, if an athlete can demonstrate ‘no significant fault’, for example, then the penalty imposed may be as low as a reprimand in certain cases.

Coaches, trainers, support staff etc

Under the 2009 code these individuals often fell outside the jurisdiction of those seeking to investigate incidents of doping and impose bans. The 2015 code seeks to redress this by enabling sanctions to be imposed where it can be shown that the doping offences stem from the involvement of these personnel. These penalties include preventing athletes from associating with such individuals if they are ineligible, or have been convicted of conduct which constitutes an anti-doping violation.

Better testing

WADA have committed to developing a technical document containing the substances and methods of doping that are commonly used in specific sports. The intention is that this will enable investigators to specifically target the substances that are commonly abused in their respective sports. With the science of anti-doping often said to be struggling to keep up with the pace of doping however, it will be interesting to note how quickly this document is updated and whether those utilising the data find it beneficial or not.

It therefore seems that WADA have, in large, reacted positively to the advice and feedback which has been provided throughout their consultation period. Stakeholders and athletes will be pleased to note that their concerns regarding the length of bans for intentional dopers have been reflected in harsher sanctions. Additionally, they will be pleased to see improved flexibility where non-intentional dopers are caught. As is always the case with the WADA code however, it is simply a tool to assist organisations. In order for any substantial change to take place it is important that these bodies take on board the requirements and update their policies and procedures accordingly.

Any true sports fan wants to see a completely level playing field, hopefully the new WADA code will be one small step towards achieving this goal.

Published December 2, 2013

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