Asser International Sports Law Blog

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The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Blog Symposium: The new WADA Code 2015 - Introduction

Day 1: The impact of the revised World Anti-Doping Code on the work of National Anti-Doping Agencies
Day 2: The “Athlete Patient” and the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code: Competing Under Medical Treatment
Day 3: Proof of intent (or lack thereof) under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code
Day 4: Ensuring proportionate sanctions under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code

On 1 January, a new version of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC or Code) entered into force. This blog symposium aims at taking stock of this development and at offering a preliminary analysis of the key legal changes introduced. The present blog will put the WADC into a more general historical and political context. It aims to briefly retrace the emergence of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its Code. It will also reconstruct the legislative process that led to the adoption of the WADC 2015 and introduce the various contributions to the blog symposium.

I.              The WADA and its Code: A Short history

The WADA is a public-private hybrid governance body.[1] It is formally a Swiss foundation, but its executive bodies are composed equally of representatives of public authorities and Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs). The current president of WADA, Sir Craig Reedie, is also vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The WADA was created as a response to the massive doping scandal that marred the Tour de France in 1998. Its original aim was to “set unified standards for anti-doping work and coordinate the efforts of sports organizations and public authorities”. The idea of a specific global organization was submitted at a World Conference on Doping in Sport in Lausanne, in February 1999. A few months later, on 10 November 1999, the WADA was established.

WADA’s key task was, and still is, to devise the global set of uniform rules applicable to the anti-doping fight: the WADC. The first version of the WADC was finalized in 2003. After amendments were tabled, a second version of the Code entered into force in 2009. As the WADA does not dispose of any public (or private for that matter) authority to implement the Code, it must be transposed by the SGBs and governments at the national and international level to gain some teeth (a list of the current signatories can be accessed here). Compliance with the Code is compulsory for the whole Olympic Movement as provided by article 43 of the Olympic Charter. WADA’s main responsibility is to monitor and report on the compliance of various federations and States. The Code was first endorsed by States in the Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport in 2003, and later supported by the adoption of the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport in October 2005. The Convention is one of the most ratified UNESCO Conventions to date with 182 signatories.

The WADC 2015 is a long document of more than 150 pages, composed of 25 articles complemented with comprehensive comments. It defines the anti-doping rule violations[2], the burden of proof applicable to doping cases[3] and the functioning of the prohibited list.[4] The Code indicates also the technical procedure applicable to doping tests[5] and the procedural rights of suspected athletes.[6] Most importantly, it provides for the sanctions regime applicable in case of a violation.[7] The Code likewise regulates the potential appeal procedures.[8] The WADC is complemented by a set of five International Standards, which are mandatory for the signatories. Finally, the implementation of the Code is also supported by a set of Model Rules, Guidelines and Protocols.

As illustrated by the recent doping scandal involving the Russian Athletics Federation, the question of compliance with the Code is a prodigious challenge for WADA. The organisation’s raison d’être is threatened by the well-known gap between law in the books and law in action. This discrepancy between a global uniform code and its many local realities, has led to recent calls for WADA to be tasked with the implementation of the Code and to take charge of the testing process. The true impact of the Code 2015 will partially depend on the clarification of the competences and responsibilities of WADA in this regard.

II.            Making the Code 2015: The legislative process

The WADC 2015 is the result of a peculiar legislative process. WADA claims, since its early days, that the Code is a living document, subjected to a productive feedback chain. The revision of the WADC started at the end of 2011 and covered three different phases of consultation over a two-year period. Approximately 2000 proposals for amendments were submitted to the drafting team. In the end, the Code was approved on 15 November 2013 at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg.

A specific team managed the consultation process and each of the three consultation phases included a review and the approval from the WADA Executive Committee. The first phase started on 28 November 2011 whereby a call for comments was communicated to stakeholders (WADA does not indicate how it defines the reach of this category), and feedback was received from 90 stakeholders. The comments led to the drafting of the Draft Version 1.0 of the 2015 Code, which was approved by the WADA Executive Committee in May 2012. On 1 June 2012, the second phase of consultation was initiated with a new call for comments issued to all the “stakeholders”. Over a period of four months, WADA received feedback from more than 100 stakeholders, which was incorporated in the second Draft of the 2015 Code. Eventually, a third consultation phase took place from 3 December 2012 until 1 March 2013, which led to the Executive Committee adopting a third draft of the Code. The final mould of the Code was submitted to the World Conference on Doping in Sport, hosted in Johannesburg in November 2013.[9]  The WADA Foundation Board adopted the final version of the Code at the Conference.

WADA is adamant (and proud of the fact) that the Code was drafted in an inclusive and participative process. Although it is undeniably positive that many stakeholders had the opportunity to access and discuss the drafts of the Code, the specific reasons leading to the policy choices made remain largely undisclosed. It is extremely difficult to know why a proposed amendment made it into the new Code, and why another did not. Moreover, the scope of the notion of a stakeholder is key to define who gets to contribute. If, for example (as I suspect), the SGBs and NADOs are massively overrepresented amongst the stakeholders consulted, it gives them a disproportionate voice in the legislative process of the new Code. The transparency of the process is also lagging, as is illustrated by the fact that the comments are nowhere to be found on WADA’s new website.[10] This lack of transparency is worrying for an institution partially founded and managed by public authorities. In any event, improving the transparency and the inclusiveness of the adoption process of the WADC is a must to ensure that WADA fulfils the good governance standards it is aspiring to.  

III.         The Blog Symposium on the WADA Code 2015

This blog symposium includes four contributions from very different perspectives, by specialized academics, practitioners and an anti-doping administrator. They deal primarily with the various practical changes to the anti-doping fight induced by the new Code. The objective is to show how the Code has already changed the way the “anti-doping world” is operating, and the transformations it might still trigger in the future. The symposium is organized with the help of both Marjolaine Viret and Emily Wisnosky.

The first contribution by Herman Ram, the Head of the Dutch Doping Autoriteit, covers the impact of the WADC 2015 on the work of national anti-doping agencies. Ram highlights the various ways in which the Code has (or may) profoundly changed the operations of the Dutch NADA. In particular through its focus on a smarter anti-doping fight. He anticipates the stumbling blocks ahead and identifies the key trends already under way.

The second contribution by Marjolaine Viret (@MarjolaineViret) and Emily Wisnosky (@Ewisnosky), the two researchers involved in the cutting edge WADC-Commentary project alongside Prof. Antonio Rigozzi (@AntonioRigozzi), focus on the new Code’s influence on Athletes under medical treatment. They study closely the new legal regime applicable to obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption and the potential sanctions faced by athletes under medical treatment who have not obtained a TUE before a positive anti-doping test.

The third contribution by Mike Morgan (@MSL_Mike), a lawyer specialized in anti-doping disputes, examines the new sanctions regime stemming out of the Code 2015. As pointed out in various recent academic contributions,[11] this is probably the most fundamental change introduced in the Code. It is in any case the most visible, since it will most vividly affect the athletes failing an anti-doping test. As Morgan shows, the new Code vows to introduce a degree of flexibility in the sanctions regime and to provide smarter, tailor-made, sanctions. Whether this aim will be achieve is still very much an open question.

Finally, Howard Jacobs (@athleteslawyer), also a lawyer specialized in anti-doping disputes, analyses the function of the notion of intent in the new Code. Indeed, one of the main innovations of the Code is the introduction of specific sanctions based on the intentional or non-intentional nature of the doping violation. This raises many legal questions linked especially with the burden of proof. Jacobs goes in great lengths to provide a clear analytical map of the problems ahead regarding the need to demonstrate the (non-)intentional nature of an anti-doping violation. He poses fundamental questions that will likely pop up in front of anti-doping tribunals and the CAS, and offers some preliminary answers. 

[1] Its atypical public-private institutional structure has stirred the attention of scholars of the Global Administrative Law movement. See L. Casini, ‘Global Hybrid Public-Private Bodies: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accessible at

[2] Article 2 WADC 2015

[3] Article 3 WADC 2015

[4] Article 4 WADC 2015

[5] Article 5,6,7 WADC 2015

[6] Article 8 WADC 2015

[7] Article 9,10, 11, 12 WADC 2015

[8] Article 13 WADC 2015

[9]Unfortunately, it is impossible to review the presentations and interventions made at the conference, as its website has been desactivated.

[10] Though they were online on the older version of the website.

[11] See, for example, A. Rigozzi,  U. Haas, E. Wisnosky and Marjolaine Viret, ‘Breaking down the process for determining a basic sanction under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code’, The International Sports Law Journal, June 2015, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 3-48 (available at