While the bill was championed by U.S. anti-doping officials, it faced resistance from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is charged with establishing and enforcing policy for major international competitions, such as the Summer and Winter Olympics.
In addition to providing protections for whistleblowers, the legislation calls for prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to $1 million for conspirators involved in doping schemes that cheat U.S. athletes. The bill does not target the athletes specifically, allowing them to then step forward as whistleblowers and cooperate with investigators.
“This is a banner day for clean athletes everywhere,” said Jim Walden, attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory. “Obviously, the United States is often at the forefront of these anti-corruption issues. Hopefully, rule-of-law nations everywhere will join and pass similar measures so that the United States could be part of a network of countries that take these issues more seriously. Clean sport hangs in the balance, and together, locking arms and making sure there’s meaningful enforcement, we can restore confidence in international sporting events.”
While the White House hasn’t publicly stated whether President Trump intends to sign the legislation, the administration’s drug policy office welcomed news of the Senate’s passage of the bill Monday.
“Bad actors who enable unfair competition should face legal consequences — a position shared by legislators on both sides of the aisle in the U.S., and by athletes around the world,” an official with the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy said in an email. “It is our hope that WADA sees this development as a positive step that fortifies clean sport for the betterment of worldwide athletic competition.”
But WADA has long questioned the legislation, concerned that the United States is overreaching in its efforts to police international sport. The bill, in effect, gives one country the ability to investigate and mete out punishments for infractions that take place anywhere in the world, thus creating jurisdictional issues that worry WADA officials.
“In particular, it may lead to overlapping laws in different jurisdictions that will compromise having a single set of rules for all athletes around the world,” James Fitzgerald, a WADA spokesman, said in an email. “This harmonization of rules is at the very core of the global anti-doping program.”
He said WADA fears whistleblowers might be less effectual if multiple jurisdictions are involved in investigating, adjudicating and punishing doping infractions, and the entire effort could undermine WADA’s investigative authority.
“WADA wishes also to understand why this legislation excludes vast areas of U.S. sport, in particular the professional leagues and all college sport,” Fitzgerald said. “If it is not good enough for American sports, why is it fine for the rest of the world?”
The legislation covers major international events that are covered by the WADA code, feature at least one American athlete, are broadcast in the United States or include a sponsor that does business in the United States. The bill’s supporters liken the effort to laws that similarly grant the United States wide-reaching prosecutorial authority to protect American financial interests globally, such as the Bank and Wire Fraud Act or the RICO Act.
“We’ve seen this play out again and again with anti-terrorism laws, anti-money laundering, anti-bribery laws,” said Walden, who worked with lawmakers to help craft the bill.
The legislation has contributed to a growing rift between U.S. anti-doping officials and their counterparts with WADA. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has lent its support to a report from Trump’s drug policy office threatening to withhold funding if WADA doesn’t undertake bigger reform measures and give American officials greater representation on its decision-making bodies.
Travis Tygart, the USADA’s chief executive, has been particularly critical of WADA’s handling of the Russian doping scheme and has supported the Rodchenkov Act from Day 1, contending that WADA had been ineffective at rooting out doping conspirators alone. The bill was born out of the Russian scandal and enjoyed bipartisan congressional support from when it was first introduced in January 2019.
“The Act establishes criminal penalties for systems that carry out doping-fraud schemes that rob athletes, citizens and businesses,” Tygart said in a statement. “It also protects whistleblowers from retaliation and provides restitution for athletes defrauded by conspiracies to dope. It is a monumental day in the fight for clean sport worldwide and we look forward to seeing the Act soon become law and help change the game for clean athletes for the good.”