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Safeguarding anti-doping protections for recreational athletes

11 Jan 2024

Updating NZ’s Anti-Doping Rules

Athlete on a football pitch wearing a Fair Play bib.

NZ’s Sports Anti-Doping Rules (the Rules) are regularly reviewed and updated to make sure that they’re fit for purpose and appropriately reflect anti-doping best practice. 

In the final quarter of each calendar year, our team drafts up the Rules for the coming year and engages with the sports sector to consult on changes. Parties like national sporting organisations (e.g. NZ Football), the Sports Tribunal and sport associations review our proposed changes and give us feedback. We consider that feedback and implement suggested changes as appropriate. The new Rules are published on our website and come into effect on the first day of each new year, superseding the old ones. 

This year, we’ve made some definition changes in two key areas that will help improve the way we manage rule violations. The changes we’ve made continue to protect reduced consequences for those playing sport at lower levels, while ensuring that athletes competing at high levels – who benefit from anti-doping support and education – are held to an appropriate standard. 

Let’s look at the changes one-by-one – but be warned, this might be tough going if you’re not familiar with anti-doping!  

Defining ‘National Level Athletes’ 

In the past, ‘National Level Athletes’ meant only those athletes in our testing pools*. This year, the Rules open that definition up to include athletes playing at the highest levels in NZ’s most popular and successful sports, as they carry a higher risk of doping.  

*A ‘testing pool’ is a group of athletes who share their addresses and location details with us so we can find them for out-of-competition testing if we need to. 

Introducing ‘High-Level Athletes’ 

The ‘Recreational Athlete’ category was introduced in 2021. At the time, we defined recreational athletes as anyone who wasn’t an 'International Level Athlete' or part of a DFSNZ Testing Pool. However, time has shown us that the definition was too wide. It left too many athletes who compete at a high level to go through the rule violation process as if they were recreational.  

To level the playing field, we’ve introduced the ‘High-Level Athlete’ category. 

‘High-Level Athletes’ may not be in a testing pool or come under the 'International Level Athlete' definition but they're still competing at a high level. They can be professional rugby players who aren’t on a testing pool, and even Olympic competitors from certain sports. 

Safeguarding recreational athlete protections 

Why are these changes so important? Because the rules apply to everyone who takes part in sport, at all levels. But if someone breaks those rules then being deemed a ‘Recreational Athlete’ can make a big difference during the sanctioning process – it can allow them a lower burden of proof and a reduced sanction. This is entirely appropriate for athletes who are truly recreational, but not for those competing at a higher level. 

That’s where the 2024 changes come in. They ensure that true recreational athletes continue to benefit from protections during a rule violation process but that athletes playing at a higher level move through that process appropriately. Because sport is more fun when it’s fair – and that’s true at all levels of competition. 

Want more detail? 

Read the new definitions in full in the 2024 Sports Anti-Doping Rules.