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Sports doping is a funny thing. First, some leagues or competitions seem to take doping more seriously than others, and punishments and other enforcement mechanisms can vary as well. Second, the list of banned substances can vary depending on the sport and the country, and in some cases there is little reason behind why some substances are banned and others are not. Third, some substances, perfectly legal under a nation's drug laws, may be banned, leaving athletes wondering which may garner a doping charge.
And then there's the matter of punishment: from the league or competition, from an anti-doping agency, and from law enforcement. But the British government, at least, put the kibosh on criminalizing doping in sports. The UK's minister of sport, Tracey Crouch, announced last week that those found violating the nation's anti-doping regulations would not face jail time.
Bans, Not Bars
"The UK is one of the leading nations in the world in anti-doping with robust testing, information sharing and investigation processes in place," Crouch asserted. "It was right that we looked into the case for criminalising doping, however the strong consensus is that it would not necessarily aid the fight against drug cheats." Instead, a review of the UK's anti-doping laws indicated long bans, as opposed to criminal fines or incarceration, are a more effective way of tackling doping in sport.
"We are not complacent though," Crouch maintained, "which is why there are recommendations in the review that I urge the anti-doping authorities, sports governing bodies and health organisations to consider to further strengthen our approach." One of those recommendations, according to the BBC, was to increase scrutiny of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) that allow athletes to take a banned substance or undergo prohibited treatment for medical reasons. None of those interviewed for the report recommended the criminalization of sports doping.
Criminal Sentencing and League Suspensions
Of course, doping or violating league or competition substance abuse policies can become criminal if that substance is prohibited under federal or state law. Take, for instance, the case of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who told a police officer he "didn't know you could get a DUI for being high." Bell was sentenced to 15 months of probation, a 60-day suspension of his driver's license, DUI education classes, and $2,400 in court costs, but was not suspended by the NFL even though the league prohibits the "use, possession, acquisition, sale, or distribution of substances of abuse."
Fighting doping in sports can be a tricky business, and can get even trickier where it overlaps with local, state, or federal criminal laws.