Anti-Doping Policies: The Olympics and Selected Professional Sports

Publication Date: April 2005

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Social conditions



The use of performance-enhancing substances by athletes has a long history, predating the ancient Greek Olympiads. Concern about this practice was manifested in the 20th century by, in the case of the Olympics, the creation of anti-doping organizations, and the adoption of anti-doping policies by these organizations and professional sports leagues in the United States. Leading the way was the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which implemented testing in 1968 at the Olympic Games in Grenoble, France, and Mexico City, Mexico. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL) followed suit in the 1980s. Major League Baseball implemented an anti-drug policy in 2003.

This report compares current anti-doping policies for performance enhancing substances among the Olympic movement and three professional sports -- Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NFL. Details associated with each of the selected group's policy are presented in Table 1. The report also presents elements of what have been identified as model anti-doping policies and (in the appendix) provides a comparison of Major League Baseball's former and current anti-doping policies (Table 2) and a glossary of related terms.

In general, the report indicates that the anti-doping policies for the Olympic movement are more independent of the sports they regulate than are the policies of Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NFL, both in the manner in which they are established and in the entities responsible for their implementation. For example, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unilaterally established the anti-doping policy for Olympic athletes, whereas the professional sports leagues' policies are the result of negotiations with their respective players associations. The Olympic movement also maintains the most comprehensive list of prohibited substances and methods, and provides sanctions that are more strict than in the professional sports. For example, the Olympic standard provides a two-year ban for a first violation, whereas Major League Baseball imposes a 10-day suspension without pay for a first violation. Also, Olympic athletes and NFL players are responsible for what is in their bodies, but neither Major League Baseball nor the NBA addresses this subject.

Direct comparison of these sports is sometimes difficult because the policies use different terminology or make reference to other standards. The policies are also constantly changing in response to the development of new substances that are sometimes designed to avoid detection. In some cases, the policies prohibit certain substances for which tests are not available in order to inform athletes about harmful substances. However, in other cases, tests and sanctions are not provided for substances for which tests are available. For example, except for "reasonable cause" testing, Major League Baseball's policy provides for testing and sanctions only with regard to steroids -- not other substances prohibited in the league's policy.

This report will be updated as anti-doping policies change and elements of those policies become clearer.