Reduced sentences for recreational drugs and added protections for whistleblowers

Jeremy Wilson
·2-min read
Urine samples are prepared for testing - AP
Urine samples are prepared for testing - AP

Whistleblowers will be offered enhanced protection under new anti-doping rules that will be introduced next year, which will also include reduced sentences for the use of some recreational drugs.

The updated rules, which were published by UK Anti-Doping on Thursday and will come into force across the United Kingdom in January, follow changes in the World Anti-Doping Code and apply to everyone in sport, from athletes and coaches to support staff and governing bodies.

The treatment of whistleblowers, whose intelligence is regarded as critical in the fight against doping, will mean that a separate anti-doping offence will apply to those who discourage the reporting of information or retaliate against an individual for doing so.

There will also be the potential for shorter bans for a certain group of substances, largely recreational drugs, when their use is out-of-competition and unrelated to sports performance. Athletes will also be incentivised for following treatment programmes. The precise list of those recreational substances to which this will apply has not yet been published, but is expected to include cannabis and cocaine.

If, for example, an athlete is tested in competition and can produce evidence that the substance was used out of competition then their sentence would be reduced from two years to three months. It could go down further to just one month if they complete a rehabilitation programme.

The rationale is that anti-doping should be about catching cheats and that out-of-competition recreational drug use essentially should be a public health matter rather than a sports disciplinary issue. 

Engaging in fraudulent conduct, such as submitting falsified documents, following an alleged violation will also be treated as a separate offence and mean that a further consecutive ban can be applied. Bans will also be increased under the new rules by an additional two years where “aggravating circumstances” occur, such as the use of multiple prohibited substances.

The changes follow extensive stakeholder consultation and the overall aim is to bring more flexibility to the system, but particularly recognise the importance of whistleblowers.

Many of the biggest sports doping revelations of recent years, notably Lance Armstrong in cycling and the scandal in Russia which had led to their Olympic and Paralympic suspension, have largely come to light as a direct result of whistleblowers rather than the efficacy of the testing process.

Researchers at Leeds Beckett University are currently looking into the barriers that surround whistleblowing.

“We have developed the new rules to ensure that we are able to meet the latest challenges threatening clean sport, and that athletes and the public can have confidence in clean competition,” said Nicole Sapstead, the chief executive of Ukad. There will now be a programme of education for athletes to ensure that they are fully aware of how the changes may affect them.