Senator Whitehouse just shook up the Olympics forever

No, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will not be entering the break dancing competition at the 2024 Summer Olympics.

But Rhode Island’s junior senator could play a major role in the Olympics for generations now that legislation he spearheaded to impose criminal penalties on those who engage in cheating conspiracies (think steroids) has been signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Whitehouse was the lead Senate sponsor on the Rodchenkov Act, which is named after the man who once ran Russia’s anti-doping program and later admitted to be part of a widespread cheating scandal. If you haven’t seen the documentary “Icarus” on Netflix, it’s worth watching this weekend.

The legislation is pretty straightforward. It states that criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison and/or heavy fines can be assessed to anyone who is convicted of attempting to influence a major international sport competition through prohibited substances or methods.

”The thing an athlete wants more than anyone else is to feel that their talents in fair competition were rewarded,” Whitehouse said this week. “And if somebody beats them fair and square, that may be disappointing, but that’s competition.”

While the legislation includes a special carve out specifically for individual athletes (if they are cheating all by themselves), Whitehouse said that doesn’t mean that they can’t be charged as part of a broader conspiracy. Officials in Russia have criticized the bill because it doesn’t apply to professional leagues in the US.

The bill is significant. Doping is only going to get more sophisticated in the coming years, and we’ve already seen how far some countries, teams, and groups are willing to go to win. While the Olympic committee has always had the ability to strip winners of their medals, criminal penalties might make individuals think twice before participating in these schemes.

The Summer Olympics were expected to be held in Tokyo over the summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the games to be postponed until summer 2021.

By:  Dan McGowan
Source: Boston Globe