Four year ban will stand up in court - WADA

STEPHEN WILSON
Last updated 07:29 20/11/2012

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Drug cheats will be kept out at least one Olympics under the World Anti-Doping Agency's proposal to increase the suspension for serious violations from two years to four years.

WADA plans to double the standard penalty in the next edition of its global anti-doping code, which will come up for approval next year and go into effect in 2015.

WADA President John Fahey said there is "an overwhelming amount of support for the sanction to be strengthened" for use of steroids, human growth hormone and other serious doping substances and methods.

Some athletes and sports bodies have previously challenged four-year bans in court as being too severe and a restraint of trade. But Fahey said WADA took legal advice on the issue and believes the sanction will stand up in court.

"I am confident the four years won't breach ... any current law in any part of the world," Fahey said in a conference call with reporters from WADA offices in Montreal.

"We have to be sensible and take into account proportionality and human rights. There is no point putting a penalty that would be thrown out by the civil courts."

The proposal was included in a new draft code that was presented to the WADA board on Sunday and will be reviewed next month.

While backing four-year suspensions, WADA decided not to include the IOC's proposal to include a specific ban for the Olympics. The IOC's previous rule - barring any athlete with a doping suspension of more than six months from competing in the next Olympics - was thrown out by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year because it represented a second sanction and did not comply with the WADA code.

The IOC then proposed including the rule in the next WADA code, but the board felt it wasn't necessary because a blanket four-year ban would serve the same purpose.

"Four years will invariably take out someone competing in the next Olympics," Fahey said. "It's not specific to the ... Olympic movement. It's simply a four-year term. It strengthens and covers things the Olympic movement thought ought to have been covered by their own rule in the past."

The IOC welcomed WADA's move to stiffen the punishment but did not say whether it would give up on its own proposal.

"One of the new proposals appears to be a reinforcement of the sanction for heavy doping to four years. This seems to address the IOC's and Olympic movement's' request to strengthen sanctions," the IOC said in a statement.

"However, since the IOC still has to meet with its stakeholders to discuss the current drafts, it would be premature to comment further at this stage."

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WADA's move also would bring an end to the British Olympic Association's aim to revive its lifetime Olympic ban for dopers. The BOA rule was also thrown out last year by the arbitration court.

"There has been broad consensus that a two-year sanction for a serious first-time doping offense was insufficient and did not send the right message as a deterrent to those who might consider breaking the rules," BOA spokesman Darryl Seibel said. "By strengthening the sanction, WADA is moving in the right direction."

WADA's current code includes the possibility of four-year bans for "aggravated" circumstances, but few federations have applied the tougher sanction.

"By and large most settled on the two years," Fahey said. "It's difficult defining aggravated circumstances. This time, we effectively name the serious violations and say that's the four years."

On other matters, the board gave WADA the capability to undertake its own investigations, something underlined by the US Anti-Doping Agency's probe that led to Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from Olympic sports.

"It doesn't mean we are going to be setting up an investigative unit, but we can certainly ask questions," Fahey said. "It's a very important change going forward."

The board also decided not to do away with backup "B" samples in doping tests. Some officials have said there is no need for the "B" tests because they almost always confirm the initial "A" sample, but Fahey said athletes were adamant about keeping them as an "insurance policy" against mistakes and lawyers want them in the case of court challenges.

For the second year in a row, the board decided against releasing additional funding for the agency, which has a budget of $28 million.

Fahey said WADA won't have to cut back on its activities next year because it has sufficient financial reserves, but programmes could be at risk in the future.

"The day is coming that if we don't get a reasonable increase in our budget, then we will have to seriously look at cutting programmes," he said. "That would be a tragedy." 

- AP

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