For too long the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) has miscategorized substances of abuse as performance enhancing drugs. This has meant that players who have consumed these have been treated as if they were ‘drug cheats.’ However, in nearly all cases, players have consumed substances of abuse recreationally or suffer from underlying challenges with addiction.
Referring to the urgent need to act, World Players Executive Director, Brendan Schwab said:
“We are pleased that WADA has finally agreed to manage substances of abuse cases from a player health and wellbeing perspective. It is now essential that no player serves a sanction one day longer than they have to under the new rules. Swift action by anti-doping authorities will ensure players will no longer be left to suffer with their careers in jeopardy.”
The best practice approach in many sports has been to ensure players can be offered the support they need through dedicated treatment and rehabilitation programs and not through punitive sporting sanctions. Following extensive discussions with player associations this is now also recognized in a key reform included in the 2021 WADA Code.
The reform means substances of abuse will no longer be treated in the same way as performance enhancing drugs with a dedicated separate category for substances of abuse under WADA’s rules. Sanctions will also be reduced to one month where players are participating in rehabilitation. This will make a meaningful difference to the careers of many players who have previously had unnecessarily harsh sanctions imposed of up to four years.
However, as the 2021 WADA Code is not effective until 1 January 2021, many players are continuing to serve these harsh sanctions for substances of abuse despite the approved change. With the recent inclusion of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and heroin as substances of abuse in WADA’s rules on 30 September 2020, the implementation of the reform must now be accelerated.
All competent anti-doping authorities, in collaboration with player associations and support from WADA, must ensure:
1) players serving existing sanctions know they are eligible to apply for a reduction
2) the necessary procedures are in place to ensure players can receive a reduction
3) players are permitted to apply and receive their reductions now
World Players and its affiliates have significant expertise in relation to supporting players who have challenges with substances of abuse and are committed to sharing this with all stakeholders in the anti-doping movement.