The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act and the Power of One

Jason AlbertNovember 21, 2019
American Noah Hoffman (r) racing alongside Norway’s Daniel Stock during Saturday’s 30 k skiathlon at the 2017 World Cup in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

Noah Hoffman, retired athlete, and current sophomore at Brown University is part of the movement to upgrade anti-doping enforcement. On October 28, he posted a blog highlighting why he supported the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA). RADA is federal legislation that will criminalize doping. More specifically, as Hoffman notes, it criminalizes doping conspiracies involving international sporting events like the Olympics and World Championships.

Here are the details of RADA as highlighted by Hoffman in his October 28 post:

The Act will

  • Criminalize doping conspiracies that target international sporting events
    • International jurisdiction extends to any sporting events that has
    • 1 or more U.S. athletes and 3 or more international athletes competing
      • AND
    • is a signatory to the WADA code
      • AND
    • has a sponsor that does business in the U.S. OR sells rights to be broadcast in the U.S.

If the act is passed, the U.S. would be able to apply broad discovery tools when it comes to investigating doping schemes: Tools that carry with them the financial and investigatory weight of the federal government. Although RADA unanimously passed in the House, it has not been voted upon in the Senate. But just the prospect of the pending legislation already has WADA speaking out against it. In fact, the AP reported that the IOC and WADA have hired a Washington D.C., lobbying firm to “discuss” the legislation. 

It appears WADA and the IOC are concerned about the extraterritorial powers potentially given to the U.S. when it comes to pursuing doping syndicates abroad. 

Noah Hoffman (bib 26) skiing with Anders Soedergren of Sweden inthe 2014 Olympic 50 k.

With all the white noise and maneuverings surrounding the issue, Hoffman brings a human face to the topic. And he brings passion, which had this been a podcast, you’d pick up on right away. For many years, Hoffman’s skin in the game when competing against alleged dopers had one degree of separation. There he was in the closing kilometers of the men’s 50-kilometer skate at the Sochi Olympics near the front of the pack. Followers of the sport now know the Russians who swept the podium 1-2-3 had the tailwind of state sponsored doping at their backs.

This past winter, one of Hoffman’s closest friends, Karel Tammjärv of Estonia, was arrested in Austria during the 2019 World Championships, for his involvement in a blood doping ring. In the following interview, Hoffman refers to Tammjärv as he discussed the details of RADA.  

We interviewed Hoffman on October 30, a few days after his RADA blog post. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

FasterSkier: Let’s start with why you are pushing for this piece of legislation to pass?

Noah Hoffman: At its most basic level, the current system just doesn’t work. The Russian Federation faced no real consequences for corruption in world sport on a scale that we have never seen before, maybe since East Germany. We are seen athletes like Karel and the other athletes that were caught in Austria taking actions that reflect the belief that there are no consequences for disregarding the rules and corrupting sport. We have also see law enforcement as one of the very effective tools to counter this corruption. 

Pointing specifically at Karel, and I say Karel because he is one of my best friends, but it was really five cross-country athletes and the cyclist and everyone else who was caught up in the Worlds doping scandal from last year — That disrupted doping network was virtually entirely due to the work of Austrian and German law enforcement. 

Law enforcement has no tools to address this massive state sponsored doping in this country because it is not a criminal liability to dope — or to orchestrate doping more importantly. To be clear, the Rodchenkov Act does not criminalize doping for athletes. There are numerous reasons why that cannot happen and is not actually something that should be desired. 

This criminalizes doping conspiracies, international and national level doping conspiracies where malicious actors are facilitating the doping of numerous athletes on a substantial scale. 

FS: Can you advance the argument that addresses why law enforcement should be involved?

NH: We need law enforcement’s help. Law enforcement has tools that even a really well intentioned and independent anti-doping agency like USADA does not have: the powers to search people’s homes, the powers to have a warrant issued, the powers to subpoena people to testify. Those are all things that we cannot do without law enforcement’s help. 

And the other thing I will say again is the fact that the exposure of doping that happened in Austria is a direct result of law enforcement. 

We are also seeing that the whistleblowers are exposing even bigger doping scandals like the Stepanovs and Gregory Rodchenkov, who are the reason we know that the Olympics in 2014 were so corrupted by urine bottles being passed back and forth through a wall and replaced with clean urine. The reason we know all that is because of these whistleblowers. 

The way the current criminal code stands right now, they are not reporting a crime, so these whistleblowers are not subject to whistleblower protections, which is insane. Because we know Rodchenkov has been indicted in Russia. We know that he is sought, and we know that the Russian power structure, Putin to put a name on it, is not above any means necessary of punishing people who speak out against the Russian Federation. 

To say that these people are not in danger is insanity. To say that we as a country do not have a responsibility to protect them, I think it is just wrong. And yet Rodchenkov’s protection is entirely privately funded right now. That is another huge point that this Act addresses, it offers whistleblower protections to people that are in grave danger and are risking their lives for the integrity of global sport. 

FS: Can you discuss the aspects of RADA that have to do with extraterritorial jurisdiction? For many, this aspect of the federal government getting involved with enforcing doping aboard is perceived as overreach. 

NH: I’d like to answer your question on two different levels. One on a moral ground of extraterritorial jurisdiction and two, on the practical implications.

I’ll start with the practical implications because those are easier. That is to say, we do this in U.S. criminal code all the time. If a mob in Italy is engaged in dealing cocaine in China but they are laundering money through U.S. banks, we claim jurisdiction over that even though neither of the harms per se are experienced by U.S. persons — if they are routing money through U.S. banks and U.S. dollars, then we claim jurisdiction. 

This is by no means unique. And it is essentially how the system works. I believe that we as a world sporting movement need the power of law enforcement involved in every country in the world if we can get it to investigate corruption in sport. Because it is a global problem and if you limit U.S. law enforcement to only events that happen in the U.S. you very quickly handicap them in being able to bring any charges because these events that are harming real people in this country are defrauding American citizens worldwide, athletes, and we are limiting our ability to prosecute them. 

One job of American law enforcement is to protect the welfare of American citizens. For example, the U.S. Postal scandal of the early 2000s was entirely focused on the Tour de France. So if you said that is not within U.S. jurisdiction because it happened in France, to say that Lance Armstrong’s ascension did not have real harm on real people in this country is ridiculous. 

I would feel personally offended by that claim because watching Lance Armstrong and the inspiration that he gave was basically my reason for getting into endurance sports. So to say the revelation that the whole thing was a scam didn’t harm me is ridiculous and then there’s the real monetary harm that happens to the U.S. government, that happened to the U.S. Postal service an arm of the government.

FS: State sponsored doping, like we have seen in Russia, rang the alarm bells. How is this playing out behind the scenes with the bill’s passage?

NH: The state sponsored doping that we are seeing now in relation to Russia 2014, and some more recent revelations, they are in alignment with the corruption of democratic values worldwide that we see from the Russian Federation. They are in alignment with Russia meddling with elections worldwide — democratic elections. They are just one more way Russia is undermining democratic ideals, the ideals of equity and the ideals of national welfare for individuals.

We need as many tools to fight that corruption as we possibly can. And if we say, “oh, we only care about election meddling when it happens in this country and you can go ahead and interfere in democratic elections in the rest of the world.” That is an irrational stance because it doesn’t consider the fact that the destabilizing of the global Western World and the destabilizing of the global economy which would be the result, has profound implications in this country. 

This is why many legislators have voted to advance this bill in the House. Organized doping is just one more form of international corruption from the Russians and we need to fight this at every opportunity. And that is not just when it happens in this country. This affects us no matter where in the world it happens. 

FS: You wrote at length in your blog post explaining why you were against criminalizing doping by individual athletes. Do you care to add anything to that piece?

NH: To be clear in Austria, that situation would not have happened if the Rodchenkov Act were the law of the land here in the US. I mean, athletes will not have been arrested for doping. I outlined in my summary on my blog many reasons why that cannot be the case. Notably, because it is unconstitutional. Also because, Karel will tell you that any fine or the one day in jail he spent in Austria, that is not the bulk of his punishment for doping. The bulk of the consequence is that Karel faces are from the sports world. They are from the public shaming. They are from how this will affect his future opportunities. People are forever going to associate him with this. Anytime he applies to a job, if people don’t already know his name is associated with doping, it would take just one Google search to find out. Those criminal liabilities in those countries are not the main deterrent for athletes’ doping and nor would it be in this country if it were implemented. 

Again, I am focused, in this bill, on the actual criminal penalties associated with the act of orchestrating the doping conspiracy which is what is criminalized in this. I am focused on the fact that if it is a criminal liability in any capacity, it allows law enforcement to pursue doping cases and it mandates information sharing between law enforcement and U.S. Anti-Doping. To me as an athlete, the benefit of this bill is to strengthen the World Anti-doping system; the benefit is not to start throwing dopers in jail. That is not the point. I don’t even know if we want to be throwing administrators in jail. 

What we want to be doing is exposing doping corruption so that we can then take action to prevent it in the future. This is about providing the tools to be able to address the crisis — not about locking people up and throwing away the key. 

The bill is vague, it is not very long — maybe up to ten years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines or something like that. There are not mandatory minimums. The penalties that would be handed out would be up for a judge to decide. Thank goodness, I am not in the business of administering justice.

I believe in this bill because it’s a necessary step to give us the tools we need to let sport live up to its potential, not because I am interested in locking everyone behind bars. 

That was the point of my blog. I hope that I answered some of those questions in my text.

FS: Can you speak a bit about personal accountability? At the end of the day, many would say it comes down to the athlete…it’s the athlete makes the final choice to dope. 

NH: One is that in order for Karel to make that choice, he has got to have the knowledge to implement it. That is something that I never would have known how to do. If I had decided at some point in my career, personally, that I wanted to start doping, and I thought hard about this, I would not have known who to approach or where to go to make that happen. Clearly, you need the assistance of a doctor. But, how do you find that person and how do you do so so that it does not expose them to your intentions? 

And who could I ask for help in that process? I don’t know how I would have answered those questions. I don’t believe that anybody on my direct team, and by that I mean not only my teammates but all of the coaches that I worked with, all of the doctors and physical therapists and administrators that I worked with, I don’t know of a single person on my team that would have assisted me through that process. Who I would have trusted to go work through that– to start the process of doping?

The first thing, in order for Karel to make that decision, he has got to have the tools to do so. I think that the most effective way that we can curb doping, is limiting the athlete’s ability to dope, not necessarily their decision to do so. 

That being said, Karel and Johannes Duerr and Max Hauke and Dominik Baldauf have personal responsibility and personal accountability and they made a really bad decision. 

I believe that those athletes, clearly they have personal responsibility. Especially athletes like Karel who wasn’t having trouble putting food on the table. He doesn’t have kids to feed. This was not a life or death decision for him. This was a decision that he wanted better results in sport and he felt pressure to achieve better results for him personally, for his family, and his network but also for his country and their fall from grace a little bit in terms of cross-country skiing proficiency. 

Absolutely Karel had personal responsibility in that. And I believe that we can continue to espouse as a sports world the benefit of a strong moral compass and personal responsibility and personal accountability. That is the type of thing that in 30 years, when your sports career is over, that you are going to be proud of. 

I don’t know what the answer is when it comes to personal accountability. I think those are harder questions to answer than structural ones. 

FasterSkier: What are your thoughts on lifetime bans for offenders? 

NH: I recall Matt Whitcomb had those bumper stickers made, “lifetime ban for dopers”, sometime early in the 2010s

Banning someone from sport for life is not the same as taking away their liberty. And so I think that it is appropriate for people who orchestrated massive doping schemes that were harmful, that caused real harm to many people, many athletes, that they would not be welcome again in the sports world. 

An athlete, even an athlete with multiple offenses who choose to dope personally, and did not push doping on others, and did not require people to support the doping system or they weren’t welcome on the teams — and I am thinking of specifically of what Lance Armstrong did, Lance to me yes, he was an athlete, but he was also an administrator in the system, as was clearly outlined in the USADA report on his doping — And so, for example, I think Lance should not ever be welcomed back into the international sports world. That is not saying Lance should be locked up and go to jail, you know that is a different question. 

It may be that I believe that Lance has some criminal liability, but the question of a lifetime ban for an athlete in the case of Lance where someone was acting as both an administrator and an athlete in doping, that yeah potentially a lifetime ban from sport is appropriate. 

To wrap this into the work I am doing with Global Athlete, I believe that all of these questions would be better answered with input from athlete voices that actually have real power in the process. 

So far most of what I have said is fairly non-controversial. I am going to say also that I actually think, that that major league baseball anti-doping structure is preferred in my eyes to the WADA and IOC anti-doping structure. 

It has had lots of instances of doping, it is by no means a clean sport. And people think of the American sports leagues as having no vested interest in anti-doping. And yet, the athletes in Major League Baseball and to an extent, the other professional leagues in this country have real power and real say in what both the rules and punishments are around anti-doping. And as a result, you get a system that has a lot more buy-in from the players than you do on the world system. 

This comes through the Union, and the MLB players association, and I have been learning a lot about this in the past year. Ans this is where, if I do continue to work in the sports world, after my time at Brown, I think it will be around elevating the athletes’ voice to have real power in decision making. And that is what we are trying to do at Global Athlete. 

Because I believe that the WADA code is not handed down from some deity or is something that is morally correct. 

And that is interesting, I am fighting for the Rodchenkov Act which is fighting to criminalize people who conspire against the WADA code, and yet I am not like ‘oh the WADA code is perfect and that is what we should all be aspiring to.’ 

It is just that I believe in sport with integrity and anti-corruption measures. I think one way to achieve that integrity is to get more buy-in from everyone involved including the athletes. And the way to do that is to give athletes a real voice at the table. 

The ability for athletes to speak with a professional independent powerful voice 

There is literally no check on the IOCs and WADA’s power. That power trickles down to the national Olympic committees to the national governing bodies to the IFs — international federations. 

FS: What’s the next step for RADA and how do folks provide their opinion on the legislation?

NH: The senate is the next step. Bandwidth is the biggest limiting factor in the Senate, this is not a controversial bill. 

We need Senate leadership to bring this about. The most effective way to do that is to call their office or write a handwritten letter. In my post, I link to contact info for your Senator. We would love to get this thing done by the end of the year. This is not a long term project.

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Jason Albert

Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.

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