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US bill targeting international sports doping becomes law

Then-President Donald J. Trump. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill giving U.S. authorities the power to prosecute individuals responsible for doping at international sporting competitions involving American athletes, sponsors, or broadcasters.

Trump signed the Rodchenkov Act, which earlier passed Congress, on December 4 despite international opposition, including from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The law, named after whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who lifted the lid on state-sponsored doping in Russia, empowers U.S. prosecutors to seek fines of up to $1 million and jail terms of up to 10 years, as well as restitution to victims.

“The Rodchenkov anti-doping act is now law and part of the United States criminal code, giving the Department of Justice a powerful and unique set of tools to eradicate doping fraud and related criminal activities from international competitions.” said Jim Walden, Rodchenkov’s lawyer, in a statement.

WADA, which has authority to sanction athletes for doping, has expressed concern over the legislation, warning it could lead to a patchwork of laws that weaken the principle of having one set of rules for all athletes around the world.

“No nation has ever before asserted criminal jurisdiction over doping offences that occurred outside its national borders — and for good reason,” the agency said last month after the bill passed the Senate.

The International Olympic Committee has also questioned why American professional and college athletes are exempt.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has said there was no need to include U.S. professional and college sports in the legislation as existing law allows their prosecution.

Responding to the bill, Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin told Match Strana TV on December 5 that it creates “a situation where one country claims the right to judge.”

“We are negative about it and will have to think about how to minimize risks for Russian athletes,” the sports minister added.

Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, exposed a state-backed doping conspiracy designed to cover up Russia’s cheating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and other events.

Rodchenkov fled to the United States in 2016 and provided evidence of the doping conspiracy to WADA.

An independent WADA report confirmed the allegations, leading to partial bans for Russia at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Russian prosecutors have accused Rodchenkov of being largely responsible for the scandal.