WADA says it’s time to impose 4-year doping bans
Enough with the tough talk. Let’s see some action.
That’s the message from international anti-doping officials, who
are becoming convinced that two-year suspensions are too weak and
want sports bodies to start imposing four-year bans to send drug
cheats a stronger message.
Under the World Anti-Doping Agency code that took effect nearly
two years ago, athletes can be punished with bans of up to four
years for a first offense in ”aggravating” cases.
However, federations and national doping bodies have stayed away
from the four-year penalty, apparently worried that tougher
penalties won’t stand up in court or simply because they’re content
to stick with the two-year sanctions.
WADA Director General David Howman said those who wanted the
option of tougher punishments seem to have lost their nerve.
”This four years was something that people who were advocating
stronger penalties really wanted us to include, and so it was
included,” Howman said in an interview with The Associated Press.
”But 18 months later, it’s hardly being used, if at all.
”When it comes to the crunch, obviously people are not willing
to be as tough as they sound.”
Howman said the longer ban is intended to benefit clean
”They don’t want to be lining up against people who cheat,” he
said. ”They get a two-year penalty and, quick as a flash, they’re
Arne Ljungqvist, the International Olympic Committee’s top
anti-doping official and a WADA vice president, agreed that the
four-year sanction hasn’t been used enough.
”No one has been doing it, so we are waiting for a suitable
test case,” Ljungqvist told the AP. ”So far people are still
living with the idea that two years is the standard ban, which
should not be the case in serious cases like EPO and steroids and
the like. We will take action once we have a good case to
Some legal experts argue a four-year ban for a first violation
is Draconian and a restraint of trade. Costly court cases could
make sports bodies think twice before trying to impose a four-year
”A four-year ban is effectively a life ban in most sports,”
said Mike Morgan, a London-based lawyer specializing in doping
regulations. ”It is a very big step to take to impose that. …
The day we start seeing four-year bans, it has to be justified.
They really have to back it with some robust arguments and
Four-year bans used to be the norm, but the penalty was cut in
half after there were complaints that it went too far and wasn’t
The four-year option was reintroduced in the code approved at
the November 2007 world anti-doping conference and went into effect
on Jan. 1, 2009.
The WADA provision states that bans can be increased ”up to a
maximum of four years” in the event of ”aggravating
Possible examples that WADA cites include: being involved in a
doping conspiracy, using or possessing multiple banned substances
or using drugs on multiple occasions, being involved in ”deceptive
or obstructing conduct” to avoid detection.
The key phrase refers to cases where an athlete ”would be
likely to enjoy the performance-enhancing effects of the
anti-doping rule violation beyond the otherwise applicable period
Howman and Ljungqvist said medical research has shown that the
effects of anabolic steroids can last four years or more.
”It was that scientific evidence that made the legal people
say, ‘Yes, there are good reasons for extending the ban from two
years to four years in anabolic steroid cases,” Ljungqvist
Yet, the few times where four-year bans have been used recently
were in cases where people were accused of supplying – not using –
Last month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a decision
to impose a four-year ban on a Bulgarian soccer coach, Edward
Eranosian, for giving his players pills containing steroids before
matches in Cyprus. In June, Austrian triathlete Hannes Hempel
received a four-year sanction from the national anti-doping agency
for allegedly providing drugs to former cyclist Bernhard Kohl.
An exception is the International Weightlifting Federation,
which decided on its own in 2008 to double the penalty for a first
offense from two to four years after the sport became so riddled
with drug scandals that its Olympic future was thrown into
”The IWF did not want everyone’s first reaction to
weightlifting to be about doping and cheating,” said Monika Ungar,
legal counsel at the IWF offices in Budapest. ”We wanted to show
that this is a sport and not something dirty which everyone looks
at with a crooked eye.
”When we made the change, we received warm congratulations from
others, but no one followed our lead.”
Cycling is another sport that has been plagued by doping, with
the current investigation into three-time Tour de France champion
Alberto Contador for a positive test for clenbuterol just the
Without referring to Contador’s case, international cycling
federation president Pat McQuaid said he favors four-year bans to
help stop cheaters. He said he has instructed the UCI’s anti-doping
department to seek four-year penalties for ”premeditated” doping
and urged national federations to do the same.
”I’m increasingly going for four years because two years is
very quick,” McQuaid told the AP. ”An athlete returns to the
peleton very quick. I think it’s unfair to the clean athletes that
guys who have cheated in premeditated cheating can come back so
Morgan, the sports lawyer, said there needs to be a clear
definition of what amounts to premeditation.
”An athlete may have taken the banned substance just once, on
purpose – that’s premeditated,” he said. ”How do you distinguish
that from someone who has been doing it for six years and is taking
six or seven banned substances and is part of a wider doping
scheme? There has to be distinction between those cases.”
Track and field’s governing body, the International Association
of Athletics Federations, had previously imposed four-year bans on
a regular basis and had no comment on the issue of returning to
The IAAF’s rules allow for penalties longer than two years, but
they have not been used – except in the case of seven Russian
females who were suspended for two years and nine months by CAS in
an organized affair involving manipulation of urine samples.
”There’s a lot of strength when people are voicing opinions,
but when it comes to putting them into practice or reality, that
fierceness turns out to be pretty timid,” Howman said. ”I think
some of that does stem from a fear of a legal process. If that’s a
fear, maybe it’s something that people shouldn’t be advocating in
the first place.”
Howman acknowledged that not everyone agrees on the meaning of
”It’s probably one of the reasons that people shy away from
it,” he said. ”What makes it worse than an EPO case? Or is an
intentional EPO case aggravated? That’s the balance and I don’t
think that’s been found and it will take cases to find it.”
Meantime, Howman is running out of patience with the
”I’d just like to see people get off the starting blocks,” he
said. ”Otherwise we’re only two years into the changed code and it
hasn’t been used. When it gets reviewed again, people are going to
say, ‘What’s it there for?”’
Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.