Novel doping verdict: prohibited full contacts

Boxer Felix Sturm is punished for doping and related assault. Footballers should also take a look at the verdict.

Forbidden blows: Felix Sturm maltreats Fyodor Chudinov during the world championship fight Photo: imago/Sven Simon

The 12th Grand Criminal Chamber of the Cologne Regional Court made legal history. At the end of April, it sentenced former boxing star Felix Sturm to three years in prison in the first instance – for tax offences, but also for doping and bodily injury derived from the doping offence.

Tax fraud and doping are familiar to professional athletes. Bodily injury as a result of doping is new. The court argued: Who dopes, violates the rules of the sport. And one of the rules of boxing is that athletes who agree to fight agree not to regard the blows they receive as bodily harm. With the doping, however, Sturm overruled these rules, according to the court.

The doping sample comes from the world championship fight against the Russian Fedor Chudinov in February 2016. Sturm was tested positive for the muscle drug Stanozolol. A small amount was detected, "only 16 picograms," according to Sturm’s lawyer Nils Krober. In sports law, this is enough for a conviction. Sturm didn’t care. He ended his career.

In the current criminal proceedings, the old offense came up again. Since December 2015, two months before the World Cup fight, doping is a criminal offense in Germany.

"Razor-sharp derivation"

Linking doping and assault may seem like a legal trick. But experts believe it is legitimate. "This is a razor-sharp legal derivation that is completely accurate," Michael Lehner, probably Germany’s best-known doping lawyer, tells the taz. "In boxing and also in other martial arts, people consent to a physical confrontation. It takes place according to certain rules. If these rules are not observed, the agreement also becomes invalid and it is a case of bodily harm," he justifies. Sturm’s attorney Krober also considers the court’s reasoning to be "basically comprehensible.

He nevertheless appealed. "For us as a defense, it remains necessary to prove that doping was intentional. I cannot conclude from the reverse, just because the defendant could not present a convincing way how the substance got into his body, it must necessarily have been intentional doping," he says.

The background to this is the different burdens of proof in sports law and criminal law. In sports law, the athlete himself must prove that a prohibited substance did not enter his body through intentional ingestion. In criminal law, on the other hand, the accused must prove intent.

Doping hunters welcomed the ruling. "It certainly has a signal effect. It opens a door," said Lars Mortsiefer, legal counsel and board member of the National Anti-Doping Agency. "I do believe that in the future, the individual investigator, police officer, prosecutor, will take a closer look at the possibilities that are highlighted by the ruling. Is it a duel sport? Can the investigator also assume bodily injury in the case of doping?" Mortsiefer also sees other contact sports such as soccer and handball as being affected. Attorney Lehner agrees, "Anywhere there is full contact man-on-man or woman-on-woman, this can be applied." He even sees new areas of application: "A player who was injured and previously had no claim for damages could now claim damages if the person who caused the injury was doped."

However, such cases are likely to be rare in practice. More realistically, prosecutors will in the future investigate suspected bodily injury in doping offenses. At least in Germany, dopers in contact sports will now have to extend their risk assessment to include this point.

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