Sport Law

The Legal Implications of the Use of Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sports

Sports right from its inception has predominantly been for entertainment purposes. However, the concept of rewarding winners in these sporting competitions and the egoistic nature of man have made sports more than just entertainment for these athletes, who also want to be recognized as some of the best in their field.

It is often misconceived that the ban on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports was just to eliminate the undue advantage that these persons have against their opponents who do not use these drugs. While this was an important factor taken into consideration in the full deliberation, another factor was also as important if not more important. This factor is the issue of the health of these athletes who partake in the use of these drugs. The intake of some of these banned substances can lead to Cardiovascular problems, liver and kidney damage, lead athletes to addiction, and many other temporary and permanent health concerns. The dangers of these performance-enhancing drugs have led to the formation of several organizations and agencies to help regulate the growing issue of doping, one of these organizations is the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

The World Anti-doping Agency is an organization set up on 10 November 1999 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) spearheaded the motion to establish this foundation to combat the ever-growing concerns of doping in the sports ecosystem. The agency’s official headquarters is in Montreal, Quebec, Canada while the office at Lausanne now serves as the regional office in Europe.

WADA works in collaboration with many national and international sports federations, and other stakeholders to establish and enforce the World Anti-Doping Code, a set of anti-doping rules and regulations that apply to all athletes and support personnel worldwide. This agency maintains a prohibited list of substances and methods that are banned in sports, it is a flexible list and it gets updated annually to reflect different research in the field of medicine.

The interference of different regulatory bodies on the issue of doping in sports is predicated on well-analyzed reports pointing towards the short and long-term negative impact of doping on not just the athletes but also the sports events involved and most importantly, sports in general.

 “Sanctions serve as a lesson for Wayword deeds” mischievous actions that defy the norms, can trigger reactions, unleashing storms.  Sanctions can befall, harsh yet fair, a price to pay for those who dare. Sanctions are provided under regulations that are set to keep the chaos in check.

The Legal Repercussions of Using Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sports

The idea of law and sanctions in curing mischief is based on the principle that individuals who engage in harmful or unethical behavior should be held accountable for their actions and face the consequences as a deterrent to future wrongdoing. The use of laws and sanctions to prevent mischief can take many forms, including fines, imprisonment, community service, and other forms of punishment. Laws and sanctions can serve as a means of deterrence by sending a clear message that certain behaviors are not acceptable and will be met with consequences. They can also provide a sense of justice to victims of mischief and serve to restore public confidence in the rule of law.

The legal implications of using performance-enhancing drugs in sports carry jurisdictional flavor meaning that different jurisdictions treat their cases differently but in generality, the issue of doping in sports is no light matter. A critical appraisal of this is best done by examining some of the legal implications enforced by most internationally recognized sports organizations such as the International Olympics Committee (IOC), Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), world Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Union of European Football Association (UEFA) and so on;

  • Disqualification and Forfeiture Medals and Prizes: This is predominantly what most sports organizations go with and some of the world’s greatest athletes have been on the receiving end of this. Ben Johnson, a Canadian former sprinter, was widely recognized as one of the world’s fastest men. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Ben Johnson came through, grabbing with him both the gold medal in the 100m sprint and more impressively shattering the world record at that time, finishing with a time of 9.79 seconds.

However, he was to enjoy this galore for just a few days as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sanctioned him for doping, amongst many other sanctions handed him were disqualification from the race and making him forfeit his gold medal. Ben Johnson was found to have tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol, which is a synthetic steroid that is commonly used by athletes to enhance their performance by increasing muscle mass and strength.

  • Payment of Fines: Several factors impact the weight of the fine to be levied on athletes caught doping, the substance taken, the financial strength of the athlete, how many times the athlete has been found in violation, and the governing body sitting on the case. Fines as high as $250,000 have been slapped on athletes for doping as seen in the popular 2016 case of Tennis star, Maria Sharapova. Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance, Meldonium at the Australian Open.

Meldonium is believed to improve endurance, reduce fatigue, and enhance recovery time, which could provide an unfair advantage to athletes who use it. Its ban has been a controversial topic in the sports world as it has been argued that evidence of its performance-enhancing effects is not strong enough to warrant a ban, but it is still recognized as a banned substance and still makes the list of banned substances according to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

  • Contractual Disputes: Sponsors and employers who are contracted to these athletes most times have zero tolerance for doping and often include doping in the termination clause as a cause to terminate the contract between them and the athletes. In some situations, things get messy to the extent that parties involved in the contract are before the court seeking its intervention.

In the 2016 case of Maria Sharapova, after the tennis star tested positive for the banned substance, she lost several endorsement deals, one from Nike. Sharapova instituted legal proceedings against Nike, arguing that Nike had breached the contract between them as they did not provide her with sufficient notice and an opportunity to cure any breach before terminating the contract. In the end, Nike agreed to pay Sharapova an undisclosed amount, it was reported that Sharapova would receive compensation for the remaining value of her contract with Nike, which was worth about $70 million over eight years.

  • Criminal Charges/Investigation: Largely doping does not attract criminal charges but in some jurisdictions, effective efforts have been made toward strictly policing doping. In Germany, there is the Germany Anti-Doping Act. The act was enacted in 2015 and it criminalizes the use, possession, and distribution of doping substances. This law applies to every sport in Germany. Athletes who obtain banned substances through prescription fraud, such as forging prescriptions or obtaining them through unlicensed sources can face criminal charges in the United States of America for charges related to fraud and drug trafficking.
  • Ineligibility for Future Events/Tournaments: Athletes found guilty of violating anti-doping regulations, most often are suspended from competing in future tournaments at least for a limited timeframe. Maria Sharapova was suspended from competing in any tennis event for 15 months by the International Tennis Federation. In some cases, even when the period of suspension is over, some tournament organizers are reluctant to invite these athletes to their events. Justin Gatlin is a true victim of organizers’ reluctance to invite athletes with past doping records. In 2015, the organizers of a Diamond League track and field meeting in Shanghai, China, refused to send out an invitation to Gatlin citing their policy of not inviting athletes who have been convicted of doping charges.
  • Loss of Records: Numerous world records set in the past have been expunged from history and it is now like they never happened just because the athletes with these records are doping. It is important to note that testing positive for banned substances even after the tournament could be enough to erase the record set. Sometimes suspicions might lead to an athlete getting tested after the event. However, the type of banned substance and the organization governing the tournament will determine the severity of the case. 
  • Reduced Funding: It is not inconceivable that events rocked by the doping crisis will find it tough to secure funds for subsequent events. Just as in the case of sponsorship for athletes, brands do not want to work with organizations or persons that will smear the brands’ image in the eyes of the public. The Tour de France, which is one of the most recognized cycling races in the world lost one of its most dominant sponsors, Credit Lyonnais as a result of several consistent doping scandals in the sport.
  • Increased Regulations on doping matters: Laws and regulations have always been a means of encouraging positive behavior and curtailing mischievous habits. It is these tools that organizations and event organizers employ to restrain players from resorting to doping. These regulations are sometimes made stricter and drug tests more frequent in such a way that it becomes practically impossible to dodge.

CONCLUSION

  Athletes are responsible and strictly liable for any substance found in their bodies and as so athletes are to treat their bodies as a temple. The athlete is to handle his/her body as a job and be very cautious of all food intake and products they use on their body. Medications and supplements taken by these athletes might contain banned substances that the athlete unknowingly consumes. There is a possibility that an environment heavily polluted with banned substances can be dangerous to the athlete as he/she might inhale enough concentration that can show up during drug tests. It is advised to be well aware of all banned substances to avoid mistakes along the way. Doping has ruined many careers and erased many established careers just like Lance Armstrong who had all his cycling accolades taken after it was found that he was doping his whole career. Doping generally undermines the integrity of sports and will always be given zero tolerance.

Relevant Materials

  1. “Maria Sharapova Sues Nike Over Termination of Contract After Doping Scandal.” The Guardian, 14 Mar. 2018, www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/mar/14/maria-sharapova-sues-nike-over-contract-termination-after-doping-scandal.
  2. “About Us.” World Anti-Doping Agency, https://www.wada-ama.org/en/about-us.
  3. “Prohibited List.” World Anti-Doping Agency, https://www.wada-ama.org/en/what-we-do/prohibited-list.
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/sports/cycling/lance-armstrong.html
  5. https://www.wada-ama.org/en/what-we-do/prohibited-list
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/sports/30iht-doping.2322317.html
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/05/justin-gatlin-olympic-sprinter-banned-doping-offence
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About Franklin Olisaemeka Eze

Franklin Olisaemeka Eze is a law school aspirant with a deep-rooted enthusiasm for the legal field. While his interests span various aspects of law, he is currently delving into the dynamic world of technology, with a particular focus on cybersecurity and the emerging Web 3 landscape. However, his love for sports is an integral part of his identity, ensuring that he remains actively engaged in the captivating realm of sports law. Franklin's journey is a testament to his commitment to exploring diverse legal avenues and making a lasting impact in the ever-evolving legal and tech domains.”