U.S. senators bring bill to punish those who participate in doping schemes

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would criminalize international doping conspiracies, the likes of which Russia pursued during the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

The measure is named after Grigory Rodchenkov, the Moscow lab director who blew the whistle on Russian cheating. It is similar to a bill introduced in the House earlier this year but is given a better chance of passing in part because it focuses on large-scale corruption and eliminates language that would put individuals in jeopardy for smaller offenses.

Sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, the bill calls for fines of up to $1 million and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who participate in schemes designed to influence international sports competitions through doping.

The bill is being introduced two months after the Justice Department indicted seven people for involvement in a wide-ranging Russian hacking scheme that sought out international anti-doping agencies among its targets. That scheme revealed medical records of more than 250 athletes. A U.S. attorney involved in the case said it was part of Russia's quest for revenge after some of its athletes were banned from the 2016 Olympics.

Under the bill, doping is added to the list of areas in which Russia is using sophisticated schemes to disrupt American institutions. Earlier this week, the Senate intelligence committee released reports detailing Russia's widespread political disinformation campaign on social media, designed to help elect Donald Trump president in 2016.

"To remain a 'city on a hill,' America must hold the crooked and corrupt accountable whenever we can. That means forcefully confronting Russia's use of corruption as a tool of foreign policy," Whitehouse said.

The bill would give prosecutors some of the same tools they used to bring indictments in 2015 against a number of FIFA executives for racketeering, wire fraud and other financial crimes.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart called the bill part of an "overall recognition that doping is fraud, and when it's done by organizations, it's going to be put on the same level as other types of fraud. That's a really powerful statement."

The bill calls for federal agencies pursuing doping cases to consult with the USADA, which has joined a chorus of world anti-doping agencies in criticizing the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee for showing leniency toward Russia in the wake of the scandal.

"I think there was unanimous agreement (among U.S. lawmakers) that the institutions that are supposed to be policing doping are not working and, in many ways, are emboldening cheaters," said Rodchenkov's attorney, Jim Walden. "I think this is a very direct way to deter further criminal activity."

The bill specifically targets organizations that conduct doping fraud at major international competitions, such as world championships or the Olympics. While the House bill would have left open the prospect of athletes suing each other for damages, this one would give victims of the conspiracies the ability to receive restitution for money and opportunities lost.

It also would give whistleblowers that same type of protection as witnesses and informants receive in other cases.

"I believe that this legislation holds the promise to finally protect athletes and international competitions from corruption and interference that we see continues today," Rodchenkov said in a statement. "This broad support from Congress is vital to our fight for justice and fairness in the international arena of sport."