Olympic Doping Rules

With all the buzz about suspected doping at the 2012 Olympics, few people realize that the international rules against doping are relatively recent. Find out who makes and enforces the Olympic anti-doping rules.

Adam Freedman
3-minute read

Today’s topic: The rules against Olympic doping

And now, your daily dose of legalese: This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

Who Makes the Rules Against Doping?

If you’ve been following the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, you’ve probably noticed a lot of chatter about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, aka “doping.” Although there have been relatively few confirmed doping cases at the Olympics, it seems like every time an athlete puts in a really exceptional performance, you start hearing rumors that the person is secretly breaking the rules. Can a 16-year-old female swimmer really beat Ryan Lochte’s time?

Which leads me to ask: Who makes the rules against Olympic doping? And who enforces them? And what happens to those who get caught. In this article, I’ll answer those questions.>


The World Anti-Doping Agency

Everyone knows that it’s against the rules for Olympic athletes to dope themselves up, but who makes up the rules? As it happens, the rules are written by an international organization known as the World Anti-Doping Agency, or “WADA.” The International Olympic Committee (or IOC) successfully proposed the creation of WADA in 1999, following a doping scandal at the Tour de France bike race. Before 1999, anti-doping efforts were largely uncoordinated internationally.

The basic international rules on doping are set out in The World Anti-Doping Code, a sort of Magna Charta for drug-free sports. The most recent version of the Code took effect on January 1, 2009 and it provides harmonized global standards for drug testing athletes, and for the consequences of failing a drug test. Every country that participates in the Olympics essentially agrees to follow the WADA rules.

Drug Testing Is a Year-Round Event

As I write this, only 4 athletes have been thrown out of the Olympic Village for doping, and nobody has been caught doping in a competition. But those numbers are deceptive because the drug testing starts long before the games begin. In the 6 months before the games, 107 athletes were pre-emptively barred from attending the London games due to doping suspensions. During the games themselves, the IOC plans to take more than 5,000 urine samples to be tested at a dedicated laboratory. And the IOC plans to keep the samples for 8 years in case new, more sensitive tests are developed!

Doping Punishment and the Right to Appeal

The consequences of doping are what you might expect. If an athlete is caught before the games commence, he or she is simply suspended from competition, typically for 6 months or more. If an athlete is found to have cheated in an actual competition, then any medals are forfeited and the results are recalculated. Athletes can appeal a doping penalty; under the Olympic Charter, such appeals are heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which is an international tribunal, headquartered in Switzerland, for resolving international sporting disputes. Now there’s a dream job for lawyer!

One Court Decision Opens the Door for Former Dopers

In 2007, the IOC adopted the so-called Osaka Rule, under which athletes who receive doping suspensions of 6 months or more are barred from the next Olympic competition following the end of their suspension – even if the next Olympics are years away. In April 2012, the Court of Arbitration for Sport struck down the Osaka Rule, which opened the door for a number of former dopers, including American sprinter Justin Gatlin, to compete in London. But the 107 who were caught in the first half of 2012 are barred from competing, because their suspensions overlap with the games themselves.

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About the Author

Adam Freedman

Adam Freedman is a lawyer and a regular contributor to Point of Law and Ricochet. Freedman’s legal commentary has been featured in The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and on Public Radio. He holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Naked Constitution (2012).