In-Depth: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced this bill to criminalize international doping fraud conspiracies:
“Russia’s full-throated defiance of international norms and standards undermines the rule of law and demands the strongest of responses. The Putin regime uses strategic corruption to destabilize peaceful civil society, democratic institutions, and the alliances that have been the foundation of transatlantic peace and prosperity for the past 70-plus years. This long overdue bill would define doping for what it is: fraud. Never again should Russia or any other authoritarian state believe that there will be no legal consequences for committing doping fraud conspiracies.”
Rep. Jackson Lee argues that doping fraud must be combated to restore confidence in international sporting competition:
“Doping fraud is a crime in which big money, state assets and transnational criminals gain advantage and honest athletes and companies are defrauded. This practice, some of it state-sanctioned, has the ability to undermine international relations, and is often connected to more nefarious actions by state actors… If enacted into law, the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act will: establish criminal penalties for participating in a scheme in commerce to influence a major international sport competition through prohibited substances or methods; provide restitution to victims of such conspiracies; protect whistleblowers from retaliation; and establish coordination and sharing of information with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.”
Rep. Jackson Lee discussed this bill’s background, including its namesake, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov:
“The legislation I have introduced is bipartisan, and bears the name of a courageous whistleblower, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a courageous man who revealed the true extent of the complex state-run doping scheme which permitted Russia to perform as well as it did in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and which resulted in its ban from the 2018 Olympic Games. While he was complicit in Russia’s past bad acts, Dr. Rodchenkov regrets his past role in Russia’s state-run doping program and seeks to atone for it by aiding the effort to clean up international sports and to curb the corruption rampant in Russia… In 2016, Dr. Rodchenkov exposed the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal that took place during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. By deceiving international anti-doping authorities and swapping athletes’ samples, Russian officials cheated U.S. athletes out of Olympic glory and U.S. corporations out of honest sponsorships. These corrupt officials used bribes and illicit payments, sometimes through U.S. financial institutions, to commit this fraud. Unfortunately, the masterminds behind the Russian sports doping operation escaped punishment for their actions because there was no U.S. legal mechanism to bring them to justice. In February 2018, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing featuring Dr. Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, on combating fraud in sports and the role of whistleblowers in safeguarding the integrity of international competitions. In March, I met with Dr. Rodchenkov to discuss the threat posed by Russia to the United States, corruption in international sports bodies, and how the United States can contribute to the international effort to counter doping fraud. In July, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing that explored the interplay between doping fraud and globalized corruption and U.S. policy responses, including the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act.”
She also noted last year’s revelation that Russian Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) officers hacked U.S. and international anti-doping agencies:
“In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted seven individuals for involvement in a Russian-operated military intelligence program in which GRU officers are alleged to have conducted sophisticated hacking of U.S. and international anti-doping agencies who investigated and publicly condemned Russia’s state-sponsored doping program. The hacking victims also included 230 athletes from approximately 30 countries. The operation was part of a disinformation campaign in which victims’ personal email communications and individual medical and drug testing information, sometimes modified from its original form, was used to actively promote media coverage to further a narrative favorable to the Russian government.”
Senate sponsor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) adds:
“We know from experience that we must meet the bad behavior of Russia’s corrupt government with strength. Anything less they take as encouragement. That’s why the responses of WADA and the International Olympic Committee to the Russian doping scandal fall woefully short. Now is the time to create stiff penalties for Russia’s cheating and send a signal that Russia and other sponsors of state-directed fraud can’t use corruption as a tool of foreign policy.”
Jim Walden, a lawyer for Dr. Rodchenkov who met with this bill’s authors as they considered the issue in recent months, says it could affect real change:
‘‘We could have real change if people think they could actually go to jail for this. I think it will have a meaningful impact on coaches and athletes if they realize they might not be able to travel outside of their country for fear of being arrested.’’
This legislation passed the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote with the support of 28 bipartisan cosponsors, including 21 Democrats and seven Republicans. The National Football League (NFL) endorses this legislation.
Last Congress, this legislation had three bipartisan House cosponsors, including two Democrats and one Republican. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Whitehouse, had one cosponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Neither bill received a committee vote last Congress.
Of Note: A number of nations — including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain — have adopted criminal sanctions for doping fraud violations. Russia has also passed a law making it a crime to assist or coerce doping (however, no known charges have been brought under the law to date).
Doping fraud is often linked with corruption, bribery, and money laundering in major international competitions such as the Olympics, World Cup, and Tour de France. It also disturbs athletes' livelihoods, as they depend on prize money and sponsorships to sustain their livelihoods.
This bill invokes the United States’ contribution to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the global regulator of drugs in sports, to justify the expansion of U.S. jurisdiction over global competitions. It argues that since the United States’ annual contribution ($2.3 million) is the single largest of any nation, “[d]oping fraud in major international competitions also effectively defrauds the United States.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / luckyraccoon)