WADA: U.S. bill could ‘shatter the anti-doping system’

The World Anti-Doping Agency sent a letter to U.S. Senators explaining how a bill designed to deter drug cheats in international sports would, instead, “have the unintended consequences of shattering the anti-doping system” if it is passed without changes.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press, was sent this week at the request of a Senate committee that is holding a hearing Wednesday in which it will hear testimony about the Rodchenkov Act.

The House passed the bill last year, and WADA has hired a lobbying firm to engage Congress for changes in the legislation triggered by a Russia cheating scheme that has shaken the global Olympic movement for the past five years.

WADA director general Olivier Niggli told AP that “WADA favors governments using their legislative powers to protect clean athletes in the fight against doping and this Act is no exception.”

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The six-page WADA letter does, in fact, say the agency “supports the overall objectives of the legislation.” The letter also goes into extensive detail about provisions it says would create a “chaotic World Anti-Doping system with no legal predictability.”

The measure, named after the Moscow lab director who blew the whistle on Russia’s cheating at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, 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. (Individual athletes who get caught doping would not be subject to punishment under the law.)

It would also allow the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to obtain information collected by federal investigators, which could help in prosecuting anti-doping cases.

The WADA letter said the agency agrees with the information-sharing language.

But there is also a long list of concerns, notably over the “extraterritorial” jurisdiction the bill proposes — a clause that would allow U.S. authorities to pursue those who perpetuate doping schemes at international events in which Americans are involved as athletes, sponsors or broadcasters. Many U.S. corruption laws, including those used to prosecute FIFA executives in the soccer-bidding scandal, include similar extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“The effort to criminalize doping acts under U.S. law and then apply that law extraterritorially (cq) will shatter the international harmonization of rules that is critical to advancing clean sport,” WADA wrote in the memo.

It predicted that if the U.S. passes the law, “other nations will follow suit and inevitably competing jurisdiction on the same set of facts will result in confusion, weaken the system, and compromise the quest for clean sport.”

The athlete-advocacy group FairSport sent out a news release responding to the WADA document, giving a point-by-point rebuttal of the clauses with which the agency disagrees.

In that statement, Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, said similar laws with extraterritorial jurisdiction weren’t always popular “with corrupt nations.”

The Rodchenkov act “will do the same in the fight against doping fraud deployed by gangster states who hijack international sports competitions,” Walden said.

At meetings last November, WADA officials took criticism for lobbying efforts on the bill, which has bipartisan support in Congress.

“If we, as payers to you, use those funds to undermine legislation, then that’s not going to be a cooperative and effective way to go forward,” said Kendel Ehrlich, the U.S. government representative on WADA’s foundation board.

The U.S. government provides about $2.5 million annually to WADA.

In its letter to the Senators, WADA also defended its action in the long-running doping case involving Russia.

WADA recently ruled on the latest development in the Russia saga: proof that the country had tampered with the data it was supposed to turn over as part of a deal to be reinstated. WADA set a framework that would ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries from the upcoming Tokyo Games while allowing for some of the country’s athletes to compete.

Russia appealed that case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and on Tuesday, WADA asked the hearing to be made public.

WADA said it was urging a “go-slow” approach to any legislation “authored in revulsion to Russia’s cheating.”

“Such a move would jeopardize the international system, could undercut the foundation upon which WADA sanctioned Russia; and send shockwaves through the system precisely at a time when clean sport needs a strong and globally recognized system,” the letter said.

Niggli wanted it made clear that WADA’s intent is not to scuttle the bill. But, he told AP, “currently, there are elements of the Act that could backfire and be counter-productive for the protection of clean sport around the world.”

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