The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the global governing body of road racing and track and field, has concerns about portions of the proposed new World Anti-Doping Agency Code that would contain loopholes allowing athletes to severely reduce the four-year suspensions being recommended for first-time performance-enhancing drug use offenses.
The WADA Code is being considered for adoption at the World Conference on Doping in Sport going on right now in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The IAAF position was voiced at the conference by Abby Hoffman, a four-time Canadian Olympian and two-time Pan-American Games 800-meter gold medalist who is now a member of the IAAF's Medical and Anti-Doping Commission.
"The Athletics Family has long been unequivocal about the need for penalties for serious doping offences which reflect the seriousness of the infraction; and in the belief that serious penalties for serious offences are the most effective deterrent to doping," said Hoffman, adding that at an IAAF Congress in Moscow this summer, "our 200+ Member Federations again unanimously expressed their support for four year bans" and "many of our members and our athlete community regard four years as a minimum not the maximum."
Hoffman said that the new WADA Code, which would replace one adopted in 2009, "partially meets our expectations on penalties but in our view still comes up short in a number of key areas."
One is a provision "that four-year sanctions may be reduced to two years by an athlete simply claiming no intention to cheat (when the violations we are talking about are by their very nature intentional). As it stands, there is no qualifying language in the Code that requires athletes to provide any objective corroborating evidence beyond their own denial of intention."
Hoffman continued: "In 95 percent of the cases we face, the athlete denies doping outright; and the blame is routinely laid at the door of a sacrificial coach, doctor or other third party. The new Code provisions on intention play firmly into the hands of these athletes and their unscrupulous entourage and will only serve in our opinion to make cases more procedurally complicated, time-consuming and costly than they ought to be."
She is additionally troubled by a proposal "which would allow an athlete who has committed a serious doping violation to obtain a reduced sanction – from four down to two years – simply by admitting what has already been proven by an anti-doping organization or a sport federation."
That provision "could severely undermine the deterrent effect of sanctions as few four-year sanctions would in fact be imposed," she said.
Finally, Hoffman noted that the new WADA Code eliminates the concept of "aggravating circumstances" such as the use of multiple prohibited substances or evidence of a doping conspiracy, a provision which "has proven to be an effective method for seeking increased sanctions under the current Code" at least in athletics.
She believes that despite WADA's stated objective of making drug use penalties longer, "there is a significant risk that the specific provisions of the Code will undermine and, in effect, work against the realization of that goal."
Hoffman stresses that "when clear evidence of cheating is presented, four years must truly mean four years," and that the Code allows for "too many means of escape."