Why criminalising doping would be ‘a crime’

Published: 26 July 2016 at 14:00

Sprinters leaving their blocks

Free conference at Anglia Ruskin will discuss key legal issues currently facing sport

A free conference featuring some of the UK’s leading sports law experts will take place at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge on Friday, 16 September.

The theme of the conference is ‘the legal autonomy of sport’, a concept long treasured by sports governing bodies, but which is perceived by some to be a cloak for the lack of democracy and fair process which has seen sport come to dominate the front pages as well as back pages of newspapers in recent years.

Aimed at anyone with an interest in sport – from fans and athletes to sponsors and federations – amongst the speakers will be lawyers arguing that dealing with match-fixing should be taken out of the hands of the federations, and others arguing that doping should be taken out of the hands of the police and criminal prosecutors.

Professor Jack Anderson, of Queen’s University Belfast, will highlight how weaknesses in the governance structures of sports organisations make them vulnerable to exploitation by criminal syndicates engaged in match fixing.  Given the liquidity of gambling markets, sports betting is an attractive way for criminal syndicates to launder the proceeds of crime.

Professor Anderson will argue that although player education programmes and integrity units are important, match fixing is beyond sport’s current capacity and sport would be better served if it was dealt with alongside other types of transnational economic crime.

Meanwhile John O’Leary, a Senior Lecturer in sports law and employment law at Anglia Ruskin University, will discuss why he believes doping shouldn’t be criminalised. He said:

“There is a growing momentum to criminalise doping in sport, which began within sport but has now become a matter of national and international importance. 

“The logical conclusion is to criminalise doping; that criminal sanctions would add a new level of punishment and deterrence, and aid sport in the ‘war against doping’. However, I believe the momentum to make doping a criminal offence should be halted and reversed to prevent the blurring between illegal and unlawful conduct.”

Amongst the other speakers will be academics from the UK and abroad, leading sports law barrister Andrew Smith of Matrix Chambers in London, who has represented football clubs, managers and players in contractual disputes, and Alex Slade, the Head of Legal at BT Sport, who will run a session on media rights in sport.

Conference organiser Tom Serby, of Anglia Law School, said:

“The last couple of years have seen countless corruption scandals relating to match-fixing and doping, a situation directly related it would seem to inadequate governance of several major sports.  At the same time disquiet has been voiced about whether the sports world’s system of private arbitration affords athletes fair recourse to their legal rights.

“We hope this conference attracts a cross section from sport’s diverse stakeholder body: athletes, supporters, financial backers, media, sponsors, clubs and federations, as well as policy makers.  The speakers will articulate the legal context in which the issues confronting sport’s stakeholders should be considered, and discuss ways of providing sport with a legal framework that allows it to flourish.”

The conference is taking place on Friday, 16 September at Anglia Ruskin’s Cambridge campus.  It is free to attend and further information is available at aru.ac.uk/sportslaw2016