A bill that could give American agencies the power to pursue dopers through the courts in the same way they have chased corrupt football officials has taken a big step towards becoming law.
Named after the former head of the Moscow laboratory at the centre of the Russian doping scandal, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act was introduced to the US senate on Wednesday by senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Orrin Hatch.
The draft legislation was introduced to the House of Representatives in June and if it passes both chambers it will only need President Donald Trump’s signature to come into effect.
That would have huge potential implications for the fight against drugs cheats as it would treat doping as fraud, with criminal penalties, restitution for victims and protection for whistle-blowers.
In a statement, United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) boss Travis Tygart said: “We believe this is a game-changing bill that will transform anti-doping for the better and forever at a time when the clean sport movement needs it most.
“This bill is part of the overall recognition that doping is fraud, and when it’s done by organisations and institutions – whether that be by a sport or an entire nation – it’s going to be put on the same level as other types of fraud.”
Senator Whitehouse said the bill was important if American democracy and belief in the rule of law was going to continue to set an example to the rest of the world.
“That means forcefully confronting Russia’s use of corruption as a tool of foreign policy,” he said.
“This bill would create consequences for Russia’s cheating, and send a strong signal that Russia and other sponsors of state-directed fraud and corruption no longer enjoy impunity.”
Thanks to Dr Rodchenkov, who fled Russia in 2015 fearing for his life and is now in witness protection in the US, and other whistle-blowers, the extent of Russia’s doping was revealed by two World Anti-Doping Agency-funded (Wada) investigations in 2015 and 2016.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) eventually sanctioned Russia by forcing the country to send a neutral team to the 2018 Winter Games, a punishment the International Paralympic Committee imposed for both Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018.
Russia’s anti-doping agency Rusada was also banned for nearly three years – a sanction that meant the country was not allowed to bid to host new events but did not stop it from staging the World Cup this summer – but Wada controversially lifted that ban in September. Athletics’ world governing body the IAAF, however, has not yet reinstated its Russian member association.
The IOC, though, is eager to move on from the Russian doping crisis and has already made its feelings about the Rodchenkov Act clear, saying it has the potential to place all athletes under US criminal jurisdiction.
Olympic bosses have also suggested the US should sort out its own backyard first, as there are clear issues with the quality and quantity of drug-testing that takes place in America’s most popular professional sports.
US lawmakers are responding to widespread anger among American athletes, anti-doping experts and sports officials about how Russia’s cheating was handled by the IOC, the international federations and Wada.
As the largest single financial contributor to the budgets of the IOC and Wada, America believes it has the right to take the lead – a belief bolstered by Los Angeles’ hosting of the 2028 Olympics.
For his part, Rodchenkov has issued a statement to say he is “humbled and honoured” to see the bill introduced to the senate.
He added: “I believe this legislation holds the promise to finally protect athletes and international competitions from corruption and interference that we see continues today.”