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

back again.”

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

legally enforceable.

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

of ineligibility.”

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

latest example.

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

longer sanctions.

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

”aggravating circumstances.”

”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.