Tougher bans for doping cheats approved by WADA
Johannesburg • Drug cheats will be kept out of at least one Olympics after the ban for a first offense was doubled from two years to four, the key change in the global fight against doping in sports.
The World Anti-Doping Agency also passed a rule Friday that offered athletes possible immunity from punishment in return for "substantial" information on doping, giving cyclists an incentive to testify in a planned inquiry into their sport's drug-stained past.
"I guess it's founded on the question: If you can bring about a greater good with the cooperation you give, then there ought to be some encouragement for you," outgoing World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey said.
The doubling of bans was one of the proposals adopted by WADA and added to the World Anti-Doping Code on the final day of the World Conference on Doping in Sport. WADA also unanimously elected IOC Vice President Craig Reedie of Britain as the next president, starting Jan. 1. He was the only candidate. Makhenkesi Stofile of South Africa will be the new vice president.
"I certainly hope that the higher sanctions become a much more regular fact of life," Reedie said, immediately endorsing the tougher bans.
The code will take effect Jan. 1, 2015, in time for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It will ensure that athletes found guilty of intentional doping miss the next games, a position strongly backed by the International Olympic Committee.
But the move to four-year bans seen as the most obvious new deterrent was joined by a clause that will allow athletes to escape any sanction if their information on doping is valuable enough. It can be used in the cycling inquiry, planned for next year, on a legal principle that it is a rule about to take effect.
Fahey said it would be judged on a case-by-case basis and "dealt with in the most conscientious way." The principle will apply only to current cyclists, not banned American rider Lance Armstrong.
Also added to the revised code were stronger powers for anti-doping authorities to punish coaches who help athletes dope, and more emphasis on investigations away from drug tests to catch cheats. Another key change is WADA's ability to tell sports which substances they should be testing for.
"This is a good day for sport," Fahey said. "We must turn those words, those intentions, into action."
The new rules come with ongoing criticism that WADA, with a relatively small budget, hasn't been effective in catching cheats. It said in its own report this year that drug testing had been generally unsuccessful and that Armstrong, a serial doper, never failed a test.
WADA announced a 1 percent budget increase and members will have to pay their own airfares for WADA business through the sports or government they represent.
WADA did make progress on two key behind-the-scenes issues at the four-day conference. It agreed to help the International Cycling Union set up its independent inquiry, and a report from an audit of Jamaica's troubled drug-testing program has now made nine recommendations to the Caribbean island's sports minister, Natalie Neita-Headley.
Sports or countries deemed not compliant with WADA rules can be thrown out of the Olympics, and this week's conference was attended by IOC President Thomas Bach.
Fahey also blamed Jamaica for the intense scrutiny on WADA's recent inspection visit.
"It was Jamaica that announced when we were coming, who was coming and why we were coming," he said. "They attracted the attention on themselves."
Kenya has set up a government inquiry into allegations of widespread doping in its famous high-altitude training bases and it will submit a report within two months.
Also, a disciplinary committee was held in Johannesburg to discuss problems at Moscow's doping laboratory, raising concern over the drug-testing program for February's Winter Games in Sochi. Fahey said he'll examine that case and advise the lab of a finding by Saturday.
While the four-year bans had widespread approval, including from FIFA, the focus on intelligence gathering and investigations as opposed to testing of urine and blood samples may be a more important new tool in the code.
Many of the most significant recent breakthroughs including Armstrong, the BALCO scandal in the United States and Spain's Operation Puerto have come through investigations and not analytical tests. Armstrong was banned for life in 2012 and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after an extensive investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He was implicated and punished despite never failing a test.
"Investigations, in particular, are seen as essential if we are to do what we must do as effectively as we can," Fahey said.
WADA also strengthened its powers to punish the trainers, coaches and officials who assist in doping. Previously, they were not subject to the same anti-doping rules as athletes. The amendment concerning "smart menus" allows WADA to tell sports federations to test for substances most likely to be abused by athletes in their sports.
WADA worked on the changes to its rules the first update to the code since 2009 in a two-year process involving athletes, sports federations, anti-doping bodies and governments. More than 2,000 changes were ratified Friday after 145 meetings and 18 code drafting sessions since 2011.