The 2015 World Anti-Doping Code: Key Changes and Implications

We outline the key changes to the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code and discuss the possible implications for athletes, national federations and sportsmen alike.

The new World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) introduced by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) came into force on 1 January 2015. The revised Code makes several important changes to its predecessor and promises to have significant implications for sport across the globe.

The most notable change in the Code is the increase in the length of ban for athletes guilty of doping from two to four years. This hard-line approach emphasises WADA’s focus on being tougher on intentional cheats, with athletes who intentionally dope receiving an automatic four year ban. Athletes who refuse to provide a sample will now also face a ban of up to four years rather than the previous two.

In line with WADA’s firmer approach, the statute of limitations for doping offences has been extended from eight to ten years. This means that any such offence can now be investigated and sanctioned up to ten years after it took place. This will include re-testing samples from events within this ten-year period and relying on any new evidence that may come to light.

The Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRV) have also been increased, with the amount of ADRV’s being increased from eight to ten. One of these new rules is the “Prohibited Association” rule. This prevents athletes from continuing to associate with an individual, such as a coach, doctor or physiotherapist, who has been found guilty of a doping offence. Being found guilty of such an association can result in a two year ban for the athlete. Athletes should be aware that “association” has a relatively unexplored definition and there is no limit as to which individuals will fall into this category. The other new ADRV relates to complicity. As a result, athletes who have assisted, encouraged or helped others cover up a doping offence will be sanctioned as if they had doped themselves and could face a ban of four years.

Conversely, WADA have in fact softened their stance in relation to unintentional dopers. While the principle of strict liability remains, athletes who are found to have taken a banned substance can have their sanction reduced to a reprimand if they can establish that the source of the banned substance was a “contaminated product” and they were not significantly at fault or negligent in their ingestion of the substance contained in the contaminated product.

The 2015 Code also marks a shift in the involvement of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in doping cases. Under the Code, a first instance hearing before a national anti-doping organisation or international federation can now be bypassed and heard directly by the CAS in a single hearing, providing all parties consent. Importantly, there will be no right of appeal of the CAS decision.

Finally, there is also greater focus in the new Code around education by National Sports Organisations to help prevent doping. This is a marked improvement from the old Code’s emphasis on just providing information for athletes and such education will be values based and directed towards athletes with a particular focus on young people.

As is evident, the 2015 Code dramatically alters the sporting landscape. The firmer approach towards intentional cheats and increased sympathy towards genuine innocent athletes is a welcome change that the previous Code lacked and will be of genuine benefit to world sport going forward.

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