JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, November 15 – Athletes who use banned substances face up to four-year bans from competitive sport under beefed-up rules approved Friday to curb doping amid scandals like that of cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Global leaders passed the third World Anti-Doping Code at a conference in Johannesburg, hoping the threat of tougher punishments will deter would-be cheaters.
“We’ve got stronger sanctions for those who intentionally dope, we’ve also got greater flexibility when it comes to the sanctioning of athletes,” said John Fahey, outgoing president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The code governs competitive sports from athletics to football to cycling, and has been backed by powerful sporting bodies like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), world football’s governing body FIFA, and governments.
The new rules place “greater emphasis on intelligent processes”, said Fahey, because they fine-tune different tests in different sports, and also target athletes’ conspiring support personnel for the first time.
“There has been a widening of the net to rope in athletes’ entourage,” he told journalists.
“The code now allows for something to be done when that influence is used for the wrong purposes.”
The revised World Anti-Doping Code follows a two year-long reevaluation, in a period during which the discovery of fallen record Tour de France champion Armstrong’s extensive doping highlighted the tough battle for clean competition.
Athletes and sports bodies had called for stricter punishment for culprits, though doping controls struggle to catch them.
Less than one percent of checks give an abnormal result, despite tests jumping from 150,000 a year to 250,000 since WADA was created in 1999.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after using banned blood-boosting drug EPO, and global cycling governing body the UCI will launch an inquiry early next year to clean up the sport.
But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has slammed the updated rules for leaving cheaters with “too many means of escape”.
Four-year sanctions can be reduced to two if a caught doper denies the intention to have used a banned substance, without having to prove it.
Admitting to cheating can also reduce the sanction, or if the athlete’s support personnel take the blame.
All this will “make cases more procedurally complicated, time-consuming and costly than they ought to be,” according to the IAAF.
But incoming WADA president Craig Reedie said the new rules were robust enough.
“This code is the accumulated wisdom of the anti-doping world,” he told journalists after his election at the conference.
“I certainly hope that the higher sanctions become a much more regular fact of life,” said the 72-year-old Scotsman, who is one of the two deputy-presidents of the International Olympic Committee.
But it won’t be smooth sailing.
With its small budget of $28 million (20.8 million euros) increased by a paltry one percent next year, WADA lacks the finances to pack a punch.
The new rules — which take effect in 2015 — empower it to order doping controls and launch probes when countries fail to do so, but it still has no power to force signatories to comply.
A power it does have — and uses effectively — is accrediting laboratories to test for doping.
It already suspended the lab of Rio de Janeiro, which will cause headaches before next year’s World Cup, and is now targeting the one in Moscow, which is due to test samples for the Sochi Winter Games in three months.
Meanwhile, South African athlete Hezekiel Sepeng, who was banned from competing for two years after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in 2005, said long bans were unfair, especially when labs make mistakes.
“The sad part is, those who are probably like me, something wrong happens, then they’re going to sit for four years, and four years is too long,” he told AFP in an interview Friday.
“Those labs that are not up to standard — these labs must go,” said the 800-metres 1996 Atlanta silver medallist, who blamed his positive result on faulty tests.