Drugs and Sports: Legal Aspects

1st March 2020
Drugs and sports are two areas that have gone hand in hand throughout history. Aside from doping, there have been many famous cases of drugs in sports.

Drugs and sports is a topic that is undeniably troublesome. It occupies center stage during big events and international competitions. That said, the use of certain compounds to boost performance is nothing new. There’s even evidence of players in ancient Greece using them!

So let’s talk about some of the legal aspects of drugs in sports. In addition to discussing punishments for athletes, we’ll explain why efforts against doping have been strengthened internationally.

Drugs and sports: what is doping?

Originally, doping means the use of a prohibited method or chemical substance in sports. The term probably came from the verb “to dope”, which means to take drugs.

However, after the publication of the World Anti-doping Code by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA-AMA), the concept grew in scope. They describe it as an act that violates the rules or anti-doping laws in a sport.

According to this norm, these are the following behaviors that could be punished as violations:

  • The presence of prohibited substances in athletes’ metabolisms or blood, urine, or other fluid samples.
  • Using methods or prohibited substances, or trying to, during sports competitions.
  • Refusing to give samples or avoiding clinical or medical studies without just cause.
  • Not showing up for tests outside of the competition or not presenting the required documentation (three times during 18 months).
  • Trying to cheat or cheating during testing, or by changing the results.
  • Possessing, buying, or selling prohibited substances or methods (or trying to).
  • Appling, administering, or facilitating chemical substances to other athletes to stimulate them or slow them down. Selling to, buying for, or facilitating other athletes.
  • Collusion: involvement in the use, buying or selling, or acquisition of prohibited substances and methods and not reporting to the authorities.
  • Prohibited association.
Pills, a needle, and weights.

Which substances are prohibited in sports?

The aforementioned WADA-AMA details which substances are prohibited before, during, and after sporting events. They also specify which drugs athletes can’t take during a competition.

Prohibited substances before, during, and after competitions

  • Non-approved substances: all of those that are not on the list of permitted drugs in the WADA-AMA Code. Also, they may not consume those that are not approved by regulating governing authorities for therapeutic use in humans.
  • Anabolic agents.
  • Peptic hormones that affect growth or substances that mimic them.
  • Beta-2 Agonists.
  • Hormonal and metabolic modulators.
  • Diuretic and masking agents.

Substances and methods prohibited during competition

  • Stimulants.
  • Narcotics.
  • Cannabinoids.
  • Glucocorticoids.

The specific case of beta-blockers

Beta-blockers are a group of prohibited drugs only in certain sports. They’re permitted substances in others. Logically, if taking them improves performance in a certain sport, then their use is considered cheating. It gives certain athletes an advantage over others, a moral risk according to the rules of the sport.

Currently, athletes cannot use beta-blockers in the following types of competitions:

  • Motor racing.
  • Billards.
  • Golf.
  • Darts.
  • Skiing/snowboarding: in jumps, acrobats, and halfpipe, freestyle skiing, halfpipe and big air in snowboarding.
  • Underwater sports: free immersion apnea, submarine fishing, and archery, constant-weight apnea with or without fins, dynamic apnea with or without fins, static apnea, variable weight apnea, and Jump Blue apnea.
  • Archery and archery with a bow: in these sports, athletes can’t use beta-blockers outside of competitions either.
An athlete giving himself a shot.

Drugs and sports: applicable punishments

In Spain, the Royal Decree 255/1996 details the Regimen of Infractions and Sanctions for the Repression of Doping. In its second article, it details that there are economic sanctions as well as sports-related sanctions. It considers the circumstances and the statuary previsions of different federations.

These sanctions can include the suspension of their federal license for three months up to four years; it depends on the type of infraction and if it’s a repeat case.

The third article details the applicable sanctions for the clubs in the case of doping. These might include fines, loss of points, or of qualifying. They might even include descent of category or division.

Finally, the judges, referees, and members of the technical and directive body can face sanctions as well. This is especially true in cases of collusion, for example.

  • Agencia Mundial Antidopaje. Código Antidopaje, 2009. Extraído de: https://www.wada-ama.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/wada-code-2009-esp.pdf
  • Real Decreto 255/1996. Infracciones y sanciones en el dopaje. Extraído de: https://www.boe.es/buscar/doc.php?id=BOE-A-1996-5276