Legal Alert

The Tokyo Olympic Games and Increased Anti-Doping Enforcement

by Henry E. Hockeimer, Dee Spagnuolo, and Izabella Babchinetskaya
July 27, 2021


The Tokyo Olympics is the United States’ first opportunity to target and prosecute doping conspiracies under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (Rodchenkov Act), an act that criminalizes conspiracies surrounding the use of prohibited substances during major sporting events. The Rodchenkov Act gives U.S. authorities jurisdiction over international doping conspiracies that affect the results of the competition and harm clean athletes, sponsors, media companies, and several sports organizations. Individuals, partnerships, corporations, associations, or other entities engaged in doping conspiracies may face large fines, prison time, and the costs of restitution.

The Upshot

  • The Rodchenkov Act does not target individual athletes; instead, it criminalizes the act of conspiring to use prohibited substances and provides protection for whistleblowers (including athletes).
  • The Rodchenkov Act provides the United States extraterritorial jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute doping conspiracies, and provides victims of doping conspiracies the opportunity to seek restitution.
  • The Rodchenkov Act calls for prison sentences of up to 10 years, and fines of up to $1 million.

The Bottom Line

The United States has taken a big step in its anti-doping initiative by expanding its jurisdiction to prosecute doping conspiracies that impact major international sporting events, but the success of the Rodchenkov Act depends on the international community’s cooperation. If successful, athletes who are aware of doping conspiracies can seek whistleblower protection, victims can seek restitution, and the conspirators can face long prison terms and substantial fines. 

The ongoing Tokyo Olympics marks the first opportunity for federal officials to target corruption in international sporting events under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (Rodchenkov Act). In the wake of Russia’s 2019 doping fraud conspiracy at the Sochi Olympic Games, the Rodchenkov Act, named after one of the whistleblowers who helped uncover the 2019 conspiracy, was passed unanimously in 2020 and gives federal officials jurisdiction to prosecute those who conspire to cheat in major international sporting events. Under the Rodchenkov Act, “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person, other than an athlete, to knowingly carry into effect, attempt to carry into effect, or conspire with any other person to carry into effect a scheme in commerce to influence by use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method any major international sports competition.” It includes protection for whistleblowers (including athletes), calls for prison sentences of up to 10 years, and fines of up to $1 million. Athletes are not the targets of the Rodchenkov Act; rather, its targets include individuals, partnerships, corporations, associations, or other entities engaged in doping conspiracies. 

Like other extraterritorial laws—such as the RICO Act—the Rodchenkov Act gives the federal government power to prosecute doping conspiracies in major international sports competitions—defined as a competition with at least one U.S. athlete and three athletes from other countries, and is either broadcast in the United States or involves a domestic business that is providing financial support. Federal officials will need the support and cooperation of foreign law enforcement agencies and sports organizations to successfully police doping scandals that affect the results of the competition and harm clean athletes, sponsors, media companies, and sports organizations. International support, however, is not guaranteed, as the Rodchenkov Act faces resistance from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the organization in charge of establishing and enforcing policy for major international competitions. Because one of WADA’s core goals is to harmonize rules in the anti-doping program, WADA was concerned about potential jurisdictional issues, fearing that enforcement may be less effective with multiple jurisdictions involved in investigating, adjudicating, and punishing doping infractions. 

Despite WADA’s resistance, U.S. officials see this as an opportunity to discourage wrongdoing, and provide adequate punishment for those engaged in fraudulent activity. Proponents of the Rodchenkov Act point to the 2019 Russian doping scandal as an example of inadequate punishment, as Russian athletes are still allowed to compete internationally even though Russia has been formally barred from the Tokyo Olympics. To assist in its investigation and prosecution of international doping schemes, the FBI unit chief overseeing transnational threats launched the Sport and Gaming Initiative, which also will investigate domestic crimes like match-fixing and gambling.  It is not clear what level of presence the FBI will have during the Tokyo Olympics.   

The Rodchenkov Act characterizes doping as a fraudulent act and shows the United States’ interest in safeguarding the integrity of sporting events. Domestic and foreign individuals and entities may be subject to the Rodchenkov Act’s penalties. Furthermore, the Rodchenkov Act provides for restitution to victims who suffer financial damage as a result of someone else’s international doping fraud conspiracy pursuant to Section 3663A of title 18, United States Code. Victims of doping conspiracies eligible for restitution may include clean athletes and their sponsors. However, this law has not been tested and the scope of restitution remains an open question for courts to decide. This is a strong first step in U.S. law enforcement seeking to level the playing field in international sports competitions.

Ballard Spahr attorneys in the White Collar/Internal Investigations Group have experience in assisting individuals and entities in navigating federal criminal laws, including victims of conduct targeted by such laws.  Ballard Spahr attorneys also have deep experience in representing both Olympic athletes and National Governing Bodies of Olympic Sports.

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This alert is a periodic publication of Ballard Spahr LLP and is intended to notify recipients of new developments in the law. It should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own attorney concerning your situation and specific legal questions you have.

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