By: Richard Braun, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter: @RicBraun)
Despite being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, Lance Armstrong appears likely to keep the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
At this time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is taking the stance that it is “unclear” if they have the authority to take the medal away from Armstrong. The case will turn on how the IOC chooses to interpret the eight year statute of limitations imposed by the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC). The participation eligibility section of the Olympic Charter states that “the World Anti-Doping Code is mandatory for the whole Olympic Movement.” Accordingly, the IOC follows all World Anti-Doping Code protocols.
However, the WADC did not include the statute of limitations until 2003, after Armstrong won his bronze medal. The IOC is currently wrestling with the idea that since Armstrong won his medal before 2003, the statute of limitations does not apply.
The IOC is welcome to interpret the WADC in whatever manner they please, but taking away Armstrong’s medal would defeat the very purpose of having a statute of limitations. In American jurisprudence, one of the main underlying policy arguments behind the statute is that at some point in time a person should not have to worry about being held liable for acts that occurred many years ago. For example, if a person in their 20s committed a hit-and-run but was never arrested or otherwise sued for it, he or she should not have to worry about being arrested when they are in their 40s. At some point in time, there is no longer any societal benefit to anything but an acquittal. When the statute was enacted is not the relevant point – what is relevant is when Armstrong won his medal.
The IOC has yet to encounter a situation such as this. There is no precedent where they stripped an athlete of their medal when they otherwise would have been protected by the statute of limitations. The World Anti-Doping Agency, the authors of the WADC, has in fact dealt with this situation, however. Back in 2009, tennis great Andre Agassi admitted to using crystal meth in 1997, a substance that is banned by the WADC. However, since the 8 years statute of limitations had passed, the Agency was powerless to penalize Agassi and instead could only ask the ATP to look into the matter. At the time, the ATP had their own anti-doping agency, and could potentially punish Agassi. In the end, however, no action was taken against Agassi.
As of now, the IOC is not involved in the Armstrong case, and they are waiting on the United States Anti-Doping Agency to provide them with the materials they need to make a determination. However, what they don’t have are any positive drug tests or admissions of guilt by Armstrong. In addition, the statute of limitations imposed by the WADC, the code mandated by the Olympic Charter, seemingly puts the IOC in a corner. Any action by the IOC to strip Armstrong of his medal would likely be more for political reasons, than legal ones.