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New Anti-Doping Law Could Be A Games-Changer, If Enforced

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at July 20, 2021

The United States has a historic opportunity to restore credibility to international sports competitions using a new legal tool. The unanimously passed Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, named after Russian whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, gives the United States broad extraterritorial jurisdiction to criminally prosecute perpetrators of doping fraud. U.S. authorities should robustly enforce the law, beginning with the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs defrauds honest athletes, devoted fans and corporate sponsors. But state-sponsored doping is detrimental to more than just the integrity of athletics: Autocrats have successfully run doping schemes in international sports competitions for years in order to launder their reputations, stoke nationalism and enrich their cronies. Vladimir Putin’s approval rating skyrocketed immediately after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where Russian athletes took a record 33 medals, some of which were later revoked when the Kremlin’s elaborate doping scheme was exposed. Holding the perpetuators and enablers of doping fraud—doctors, coaches, officials and others—accountable would make it more difficult for autocrats like Putin to gain a deceitful advantage.

But the governing bodies of international sports, routinely benefiting from their own corruption, have proven they’re not up to the task. “Self-policing” by these agencies is riddled with empty promises and devoid of any real accountability. I served on FIFA’s failed Independent Governance Committee. FIFA was resistant to even modest governance and transparency improvements. The few proposals that were grudgingly but ostentatiously accepted were diluted to the point of mere window dressing. I eventually resigned, disappointed to leave the place no better than I had found it.  

Anti-doping efforts are no exception. Year after year, organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee punish athletes with great fanfare while state sponsors of doping are largely free to continue with their charade. The Rodchenkov Act restructures accountability to be more meaningful, targeting the perpetrators of doping fraud and rightly considering the athletes—unpaid and often subject to extraordinary pressure from their governments—victims. The law also includes substantial protections for whistleblowers like Dr. Rodchenkov, who stepped forward at great and ongoing personal risk to expose the Russian state’s rampant doping system and the fraudulent laboratory he ran for years at the Kremlin’s bidding. The U.S. government should lead global coordination to encourage more whistleblowers like Dr. Rodchenkov to come forward, providing meaningful protection and asylum where necessary.

We know from the success of the United States’ law against foreign bribery, which the Rodchenkov Act’s extraterritorial jurisdiction has been compared to, that robust enforcement is an effective deterrent for corrupt schemes. Multinational companies often cite the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)—even with its rare criminal prosecutions—as a chief catalyst for anti-bribery compliance. Bolstering the Rodchenkov Act’s threat of criminal prosecution with tangible, public enforcement could likewise serve as a strong deterrent against state-sponsored doping. Also following the FCPA model, adoption of laws similar to the Rodchenkov Act in other countries would lead to greater coordination between enforcement authorities across jurisdictions, leaving perpetrators of doping fraud fewer places to hide.

The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have expressed enthusiasm about the passage of the law and the prospect of enforcement—a natural fit for the Biden administration, which has promised to be tough on Russia and which frames the current geopolitical landscape as an existential battle between democracy and autocracy. Enforcing the Rodchenkov Act would also directly contribute to President Biden’s efforts to combat corruption, which he declared a core national security interest last month. U.S. agencies will need the resources to conduct anti-doping investigations, and executive branch decisionmakers should prioritize funding and resources for Rodchenkov Act enforcement.

State-sponsored doping defrauds athletes, fans and the private sector. It turns the spirit of physical excellence and the fraternity of amateur sport into tawdry theater. It perpetuates reputation laundering—a major pillar of autocratic regimes—and detracts from the real spirit of competition. The United States has a chance to lead the global campaign for real accountability, and it should begin this summer in Tokyo.


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