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New Anti-Doping Code Marks a Step Change on Contaminated Supplements

View profile for Paul Shuttleworth
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Paul Shuttleworth, Director at JCP Solicitors in South Wales who lectures in Sports Law at Swansea University, sheds light on the new 2015 WADA Code changes.

Just as every bumper crop of A level results brings with it nationwide grumbles about falling standards, every major sporting event brings with it whispers about doping – particularly if our rivals on tracks and field put in some head-turning performances.

Competitive sport will never be free from the scandals and the upsets that come with the territory and there is something of the Greek tragedy about sporting titans being knocked off their burnished pedestals by their own hand.

It might be hard for the public to accept that cheating is, for some athletes, part of the competitive process. But there have been many others whose careers have hit the skids due to unintentional doping.

Unintentional doping wins a lot of column inches and the use of contaminated supplements by athletes or sportsmen normally features in those scenarios.  

The recent case of the Welsh athletes, Rhys Williams and Gareth Warburton illustrates the point.  Both used a supplement which the supplier claimed was “nutritionally balanced to ensure your body is fuelled for maximum performance” on its website, the supplier said that the supplement contained no products which were on the banned list and the supplement only cost £1.75 per sachet. 

However after taking the supplement both athletes received suspensions after failing drugs tests. They were later cleared by UK Anti-Doping of knowingly cheating.

The new World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Codes, which came into force earlier this year, aim to tackle the issue head on.

Under the new Code intentional dopers who cheat will be sanctioned for four years.  Cheaters are athletes who knew or should have known that they were committing an anti-doping rule. Athletes who intentionally evade, refuse or fail to submit for testing also face a four year ban.

However there are now lesser sanctions for “unintentional dopers” who unknowingly take a banned substance by,  most commonly, ingesting a substance that is not listed in a dietary supplement’s list of ingredients. 

There is now greater opportunity here for a reduced sanction under the new code. A sanction will still be applied -  but it may be lessened.

Under the new Article 10 of the Code athletes who take contaminated products can have this sanction reduced to a reprimand without regard for the banned substance, which could be a stimulant or a steroid, if they a can establish that the source of the banned substance was a contaminated product and that they were not significantly at fault or negligent in ingesting the substance.

A “contaminated product” is “a product that contains a prohibited substance that is not disclosed on the product label or information available in a reasonable internet search”.  This question of a reasonable internet search is an interesting one particularly given the existence of websites such as Informed Sport, which provides a search function online to find products that have passed its certification process.

There has been much commentary on whether the 2015 WADA code has diluted sanctions on contamination cases.  There is a view however that it may actually have strengthened anti-doping efforts for the long term, in that previously the system may have been perceived as punishing genuine athletes who were not cheats and who had been subject to doping inadvertently, but who were caught up in the wider effort to exclude genuine cheats. Now the new Code looks to strike a balance on sanctions for genuine unwitting doping cases and those who are dishonest and dope intentionally.

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