U.S. Ski and Snowboard-backed resolution calls for criminalizing doping in the U.S.
On Feb. 27, the sporting world was stunned when 120 German and Austrian police officers raided 16 properties across the two countries and arrested nine people for their suspected participation in a blood doping ring. Among those arrested were five cross-country skiers who were competing in the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld, Austria, that week.
The police action, known now as Operation Bloodletting, was seen as a successful blow against doping, but it couldn’t have happened in the U.S., or many places around the world where doping is not currently a crime.
Though doping is banned in many sports, and doing it has cost many athletes their careers and achievements, it doesn’t draw fines from the courts or result in jail time in the U.S.
Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard, along with other national governing bodies of sport, are hoping legislation before Congress, H.R. 835, known as the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, will move the United States closer to joining the list of nations that consider doping a crime.
The resolution was introduced by Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, on Jan. 29, and has garnered bipartisan support in the form of 24 co-sponsors and is currently awaiting debate in a subcommittee.
If passed, the act will advocate for criminalizing doping in major international sport competitions, recommending fines up to $250,000 for individuals and $1 million for organizations and jail time capped at 10 years. It also urges the seizure of property and real estate used in doping conspiracies, and recommends protection for whistleblowers.
Representatives of U.S. Ski and Snowboard say criminalizing doping would add another lattice to the net of enforcement worldwide, which is carried out through anti-doping organizations and a patchwork of police agencies with very mixed results.
“It’s been an issue for a long, long time and there have been various different efforts to combat it, none of which have been particularly effective,” said Luke Bodensteiner, chief of sport with U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
Though national sporting bodies that compete in the Olympics are required to comply with the regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency, they do so with varying levels of tenacity. That can be problematic not only when competing in those countries, but when athletes from those countries arrive to compete on U.S. soil, Bodensteiner said.
Russia is the prime example. In 2016, more than 100 athletes tested positive for banned substances and were banned from the 2016 Summer Games, and the Russian Federation was disallowed from fielding a 2018 Winter Olympic team.
Bodensteiner said that case was extreme, but the spectrum of transgressions is broad.
“We also see these things with like whereabouts reporting or number of tests that are completed and things like that, those things vary widely nation by nation,” he said. “There are some countries that don’t have the wherewithal or the will to do the job and make sure it’s truly independent and not unduly influenced by national Olympic committees.”
The resolution says doping culture hurts athletes, governing bodies, spectators and media organizations that participate in events by eroding trust and robbing worthy institutions of the purse money and endorsements that come from success.
U.S. Ski and Snowboard had no hand in crafting the resolution, but says the language aligns with the organization’s beliefs.
“(The resolution) is really important because we have a staunch anti-doping culture on our team,” Bodensteiner said. “Fair play, anti-doping, those things are fundamental to our belief system. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also speaks to a commitment to athlete safety. We don’t ever want an athlete to feel tempted or pressured to dope in any way.”
In addition to calling for criminalizing doping, the resolution recommends protections for whistleblowers.
“By criminalizing these conspiracies, such whistleblowers will be included under existing witness and informant protection laws,” the resolution states.
Bodensteiner said he hopes the new legislation could help move the international sporting community toward a culture of anti-doping, instead of waiting for that change to come about organically. In doing so, he said it would validate U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s ethos for clean sport, and help prevent athletes like the ones caught in Seefeld from doping.
“I think this is important,” he said. “I hope that the U.S. government can lend its legal authority to the system and make sure we are doing a better job for the athletes.”