November 15, 2013 2:06 pm

Tougher bans for doping cheats approved by WADA

John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), speaks during a news conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

JOHANNESBURG – Drug cheats will be kept out of at least one Olympics after WADA doubled the ban for a first offence from two years to four, the key change to the global fight against doping in sports.

The World Anti-Doping Agency also passed a rule Friday that offered athletes possible immunity from punishment in return for “substantial” information on doping, giving cyclists an incentive to testify in a planned inquiry into their sport’s drug-stained past.

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“I guess it’s founded on the question: If you can bring about a greater good with the co-operation you give, then there ought to be some encouragement for you,” outgoing World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey said.

Increasing bans from two years to four was one of the proposals adopted by WADA and added to the World Anti-Doping Code on the final day of the World Conference on Doping in Sport. WADA also unanimously elected IOC Vice-President Craig Reedie of Britain as the next president to take over on Jan. 1. He was the only candidate. Makhenkesi Stofile of South Africa will be the new vice-president.

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“I certainly hope that the higher sanctions become a much more regular fact of life,” Reedie said, immediately endorsing the tougher bans.

The code will take effect Jan. 1, 2015, in time for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It will ensure that athletes found guilty of intentional doping miss the next games, a position strongly backed by the International Olympic Committee.

“The new measures are an excellent step forward and the IOC welcomes any improvement in the fight against doping,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “It is a much-improved code but it alone is not enough.”

Bach called for more research and technological developments.

The move to four-year bans — seen as the most obvious new deterrent — was joined by a clause that will allow athletes to escape any sanction if their information on doping is valuable enough. It can be used in the cycling inquiry, planned for next year, on a legal principle that it is a rule about to come into effect.

Fahey said it would be judged on a case-by-case basis and “dealt with in the most conscientious way.”

The principle will apply only to current cyclists, not banned American rider Lance Armstrong.

Also added to the revised code were stronger powers for anti-doping authorities to punish coaches who help athletes dope, and more emphasis on investigations away from drug tests to catch cheats. Another key change is WADA’s ability to tell sports which substances they should be testing for, while test samples can now be kept for up to 10 years, increased from eight, for re-analysis to catch cheats retroactively.

“This is a good day for sport,” Fahey said. “We must turn those words, those intentions, into action.”

The new rules come with ongoing criticism that WADA, with a relatively small budget, hasn’t been effective in catching cheats — underlined by its own report this year that found drug testing had been generally unsuccessful and that Armstrong, a serial doper, never failed a test.

WADA announced a minor 1 per cent budget increase and members will have to pay their own airfares for WADA business through the sports or government they represent.

WADA did make progress on two key behind-the-scenes issues at the four-day conference. It agreed to help the International Cycling Union set up its independent inquiry, and a report from an audit of Jamaica’s troubled drug-testing program has now made nine recommendations to the Caribbean island’s sports minister, Natalie Neita-Headley.

Sports or countries deemed not compliant with WADA rules can be thrown out of the Olympics, and this week’s conference was attended by IOC President Bach.

Fahey also blamed Jamaica for the intense scrutiny on WADA’s recent inspection visit.

“It was Jamaica that announced when we were coming, who was coming and why we were coming,” he said. “They attracted the attention on themselves.”

Kenya has set up a government inquiry into allegations of widespread doping in its famous high-altitude training bases and it will submit a report within two months. But director general David Howman said WADA had no information on the remit of the commission, raising concerns over its effectiveness.

Also, a disciplinary committee was held in Johannesburg to discuss problems at Moscow’s doping laboratory, raising concern over the drug-testing program for February’s Winter Games in Sochi. Fahey said he’ll examine the “evidence” in that case and advise the laboratory of a finding by the end of Saturday.

While the four-year bans had widespread approval, including from FIFA, the focus on intelligence gathering and investigations away from testing of urine and blood samples may be a more important new tool in the code.

Many of the most significant recent breakthroughs to catch high-profile dopers — including Armstrong, the BALCO scandal in the United States and Spain’s Operation Puerto — have come through investigations and not analytical tests. Armstrong was banned for life in 2012 and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after an extensive investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. He was implicated and punished despite never failing a test.

“Investigations, in particular, are seen as essential if we are to do what we must do as effectively as we can,” Fahey said.

WADA also strengthened its powers to punish the trainers, coaches and officials that assist in doping. Previously, they were not subject to the same anti-doping rules as athletes. The amendment concerning “smart menus” allows WADA to tell sports federations to test for substances most likely to be abused by athletes in their sports.

WADA worked on the changes to its rules — the first update to the code since 2009 — in a two-year process involving athletes, sports federations, anti-doping bodies and governments. More than 2,000 changes were ratified Friday after 145 meetings and 18 code drafting sessions since 2011.

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Follow Gerald Imray at http://www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

© The Canadian Press, 2013

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