China has formally criminalized doping after its top legislature voted to adopt Amendment XI to its criminal law on Saturday.
The historic move in China's anti-doping fight took place when the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress voted to add the amendment to Article 355.
It stipulates that anyone who lures, instigates, or cheats athletes into using banned substances in either domestic or international competitions faces up to three years' imprisonment and a fine. Heavier punishments will be given to those organizing or forcing athletes into using banned substances, while knowingly offering banned substances to athletes is also a criminal offense.
"The law isn't aimed at athletes, because cheating athletes will be punished by bans and fines in accordance with the anti-doping rules," explained Chen Zhiyu, executive director of China Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA).
"This criminal law is more focusing on punishing those behind the scenes as it has been widely recognized athletes' entourage usually play an important role in doping schemes and should be given more severe punishments," he said.
"If not for the criminal punishments, the entourage could still secretly work with athletes even after they are banned and fined," Chen added.
As far as expert Yu Chong is concerned, the new law is a response to both the International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s call and several executive anti-doping rules, including China's Anti-Doping Regulation, launched in 2004.
At its 5th summit in October 2016, the IOC urged to make "the entourage of athletes, including coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, and other officials, to be held criminally responsible for facilitating doping."
"It shows China's efforts to meet the IOC's requirement," said China University of Political Science and Law deputy professor Yu Chong on Monday.
"At the same time, it links criminal law and executive regulations in the fight against doping," he said.
The executive anti-doping rules usually ban, fine or fire entourage involved in doping and also stipulate they could be "subject to criminal punishment if what they do is a crime."
"With the new law, such clause is no longer a 'scarecrow'," Yu said.
The amendment represents China's latest anti-doping measure. In November 2019, the country's Supreme People's Court announced judicial interpretations on the application of criminal law in handling cases related to doping, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. The State Council launched the Anti-Doping Regulation in 2004.
The amendment will take effect on March 1, 2021.