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Professional athletes who violate the World Anti-Doping Code (“Code”) in relation to substances of abuse now face bans of as little as one month under new changes to the Code. From 1 January 2021, athletes who test positive to substances of abuse face a maximum of ban of three months. The sentence has previously attracted a minimum four-year ban.

Substances of Abuse are substances that are identified as such because they are frequently abused in society outside the context of sport.[1]

The following are designated substances of abuse:

  • cocaine
  • diamorphine (heroin)
  • methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA/”ecstasy”)
  • tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

An athlete must prove that the substance was taken out of competition and that its use was unrelated to enhancing sport performance.[2] Once successfully established, a ban of three months will be handed down. Further, athletes who undertake a rehabilitation programme are eligible for their suspension to be reduced from three months to one month. Recently Panthers star, Brent Naden was banned after testing positive to cocaine. Under the changes to the code, he received a one-month ban.

One important point to highlight at the outset is that the new regime applies retroactively. This means that athletes who are currently serving a suspension for a Substance of Abuse can seek to reduce its term, potentially allowing them to compete again from 1 January 2021 when the new code enters into force.

[1] World Anti-Doping Code 2021 Article 4.2.3

[2] World Anti-Doping Code 2021 Article


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