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Helsinki Commission calls for U.S. to pass international anti-doping law

By Athena Liu, Medill News Service
Olympic Athletes from Russia march in under the Olympic banner and during the opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, at the Olympic Stadium in Daegwalnyeong, South Korea, on February 9. The Russian Olympic team was banned from participating in the Winter Games over doping abuses. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI
Olympic Athletes from Russia march in under the Olympic banner and during the opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, at the Olympic Stadium in Daegwalnyeong, South Korea, on February 9. The Russian Olympic team was banned from participating in the Winter Games over doping abuses. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON -- The United States needs to pass its first international sports anti-doping law to criminalize the overuse of performance-enhancing drugs so that U.S. athletes aren't at a disadvantage in the Olympics and other international competitions, the members of Congress in the Helsinki Commission said Wednesday.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a bipartisan group of congressmen also known as the Helsinki Commission, introduced legislation last month that, if it becomes law, would be the first U.S. statute to criminalize the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in international competitions.

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It would prohibit such offenses committed in the United States, or outside of the country if they were part of a major international competition or affect U.S. interstate or foreign commerce.

"I feel confident that we will work with our colleagues and they will see the importance of this legislation to move it forward as quickly as possible," said Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said Wednesday during a hearing of the body.

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In 2016, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Russia's anti-doping lab, blew the whistle on the nation's state-run doping program, a move that influenced the results of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The International Olympic Committee stripped 13 of Russia's 33 Olympic medals and banned 39 athletes from attending future Olympic Games. However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a quasi-judicial body that settles doping disputes in international competitions, overturned 28 bans and reinstated nine medals.

The stripped medals were never reallocated. Many U.S. athletes were involved in the competitions in which the medals were awarded.

"We need help protecting the ideals that passed from my father to myself and the things that children are raise believing to inspire them to a lifetime of dedication and self-belief," said U.S. skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender.

Uhlaender was supposed to claim her bronze medal in women's skeleton match in Sochi after the former third-place Russian Elena Nikitina was disqualified because of doping violation, but the disqualification was overturned.

Under the Helsinki Commission bill, U.S. athletes and companies would be protected through civil remedies and criminal sanctions for doping frauds at major international sports competitions. Violations would result in a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

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It also would prohibit retaliation against whistleblowers.

"Making retaliation against whistleblowers in sports a criminal offense and affording them remedies through civil process is simply a game changer," Rodchenkov's attorney, Jim Walden, said during the hearing Wednesday. "It will allow other whistleblowers to come forward so that other acts of corruption can be exposed to the sanitizing rays of sunlight."

Several European countries, including Italy, Austria and Germany, have established criminal sanctions to reinforce the condemnation of doping fraud.

"I believe that criminalizing doping and strongly punishing those that cheated in Olympic sports is a necessary step to make sports better," said Yuliya Stepanova, a Russian athlete who had been part of the doping system but chose to reveal it in a 2014 documentary. "We, as parents, deserve to know that our children that participate in any level of competition are in safe hands, and gaining positive and ethical experiences. Sports officials, coaches, managers, doctors and anyone that decides to take advantage of our children ... must be strongly punished and banned from sports for life."

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