A substantial change in anti-doping policy could see athletes escape with just a month’s ban if they are caught using recreational drugs.
Next year the World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada) will implement a new code, the first change in six years. Among the measures that have been announced include a reduction in sanctions for “substances of abuse”, illegal drugs which do not have a performance-enhancing effect.
Under the new code, which is to be implemented in the UK, if an athlete tests positive for such substances but can prove they were taken out of competition then the sanction, which previously stood as a two-year ban, could be reduced to three months. If the athlete subsequently agreed to enter a process of rehabilitation, the sanction could be reduced further to a month.
The change in emphasis comes as anti-doping bodies narrow the focus of their responsibilities. The UK anti-doping authority’s (Ukad) current strategy is to protect “the right to enjoy doping-free sport” through four principles, the first of which is “catching those who cheat”.
A Ukad spokesperson said: “The World Anti-Doping Agency has introduced changes to the code to allow for recreational drugs used out of competition … to have a different set of penalties applied. To put it simply, we’re here to catch cheats.
“Instead a public health approach will be used. However, regardless of the shorter ban, athletes are strongly encouraged to stay clean and away from illegal drugs. Despite the length of the ban, it’s still not worth it.”
A list of the drugs that will fall into the category of “substances of abuse” is currently being devised ahead of the introduction of the code on 1 January 2021.
Other changes to the code, which comes after a three-year consultation process, include the addition of an Anti Doping Rule Violation to protect whistleblowers. It will become an offence under the code to either “discourage” or “retaliate against” an individual for reporting doping violations.
Further changes include a new consideration of “aggravating circumstances” which could see punishments increased when athletes are found to have made multiple violations of the code.
Fraudulent behaviour, or tampering, is also to be treated as its own separate offence meaning an athlete could be punished for a violation but also trying to cover it up.