Olympic Compliance and the World Anti-Doping Agency

Morgan Slade
Associate Editor
Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, JD 2017


With the Olympics involving the participation of over two hundred member countries, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regularly encounters issues with enforcing athlete anti- doping regulations. Due to repeated doping violations and cheating allegations, the need for a third party regulatory body, uninfluenced by conflicts of interest, became apparent.

After multiple doping scandals plagued the recent Olympic season, the IOC gathered to give the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) more power in regulating the testing programs of Olympic athletes. WADA is an international independent agency that develops anti-doping capacities and monitors the World Anti-Doping Code with the purpose of harmonizing anti-doping policies in all sports and countries.

World Anti-Doping Code

The World Anti-Doping Code is a document which lists regulations and a three-step process for countries to comply with anti-doping. The first step of attaining compliance involves acceptance of the principles of the Code and the agreement to implement and comply to it. After acceptance, the signatory proceeds to the second step – determining how to amend their current rules and policies to implement the Code. After the second step, the amended rules and regulations have to be submitted to WADA for review before they are pronounced compliant with the Code. The final step is the enforcement of the now approved and amended rules.

In addition to Code compliance, WADA monitors its signatories to ensure implementation and enforcement. WADA continually reviews and assesses signatories to monitor the implementation of the Code compliant programs through questionnaires and audits. WADA also has an internal Compliance Task Force and a Compliance Review Committee which provide independent advice, guidance and recommendations.

Effect of WADA’s Increased Authority in the Olympics

With WADA’s increased authority and regulatory power over Olympic anti-doping initiatives, member countries are held to a strict compliance structure. Under WADA’s regulation, compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code is mandatory. Thus, WADA has the ability to prevent noncompliant countries from participating.

In May of 2016, WADA declared Kenya non-compliant after it missed two deadlines to show that it had addressed cheating. Without taking steps to ensure a change in that declaration, the IOC could ban athletes from Kenya from competing in the Olympic Games. WADA proceeded to allow Kenya to make the necessary compliance changes and be considered for admittance into the Rio Games.

In July of 2016, WADA called on the IOC to ban Russia from the Olympics after discovering Russia’s sports ministry “directed, controlled and oversaw” a cover up of athlete doping. It was discovered that the Russian government coordinated a regime to conceal positive drug tests from previous Olympic Games in Sochi and London. With WADA’s findings in hand, the IOC vowed to take the toughest sanctions available in regards to Russia’s participation in the Rio Games. The resulting recommendation from WADA was a blanket ban for the participation all Russian athletes in the Games.

It is evident from recent headlines that without a strict enforcement scheme, athlete doping and the resulting cover ups will continue. With the increasing prevalence of doping in professional sports and Olympic Games, it is essential that an independent regulatory body such as WADA enforces a strict compliance code for anti-doping. On the other hand, should countries wish to ensure their athletes’ participation in future games, regulatory compliance measures must be taken to do so.