The ECHR has rejected a claim that the whereabouts requirements of the French Anti-Doping Agency restricted athletes' right to freedom of movement or right to respect of private and family life. 

Background

In 2010, the French government issued new anti-doping ‘whereabouts’ requirements to bring the Sports Code into line with the principles of the World Anti-Doping Code ('whereabouts requirements’).

The whereabouts requirements state that certain sports professionals in a ‘target group’ (designated by the French Anti-Doping Agency) must file quarterly information on their whereabouts and provide a one hour period each day during which they would be available for unannounced anti-doping testing.

The purpose of these requirements was to overcome the brief time frame within which prohibited substances could be detected.

Initial challenges in the French courts

The Fédération Nationale des Syndicats Sportifs (FNASS) (an association representing a number of sports unions in France), several other French sports unions and associations, 99 professional sports players and Jeannie Longo (a French cyclist) unsuccessfully challenged the whereabouts rules in the French courts (Conseil d’Etat) on various grounds including that the whereabouts rules amounted to a breach of the human rights of the sports professionals.

Application to the European Court of Human Rights

The applicants made an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the following grounds:

  • Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life: The whereabouts requirements rules amounted to an unjustified interference with their right to respect for their private and family life and their home.
  • Article 2 of Protocol No. 4: Right to freedom of movement: The whereabouts requirements were incompatible with their freedom of movement.

Decision of the ECHR

In relation to Article 8, the ECHR unanimously held the following:

  • No violation: There had been no violation of Article 8.
  • Legitimate aims: While the whereabouts requirements did interfere with the applicants’ privacy, the requirements had the legitimate aim to protect the health of professional, amateur and youth athletes and preventing spectators from being deprived of fair competition which they legitimately expect.
  • Necessity: The rules were necessary. There was broad consensus at European and international levels for doping to be targeted due to health concerns.
  • Balance of interests: The rules struck a fair balance between the various interests at stake.

In relation to Article 2 of Protocol No 4, the ECHR held the following:

  • The applicants had not been prevented from leaving their country of residence.
  • They had merely been obliged to indicate their whereabouts in the destination country.
  • Accordingly, Article 2 of Protocol No 4 was not applicable.

Comment

This judgment will be welcomed by national and international bodies leading the fight against doping – a fight that the ECHR described as a ‘scourge which was particularly prevalent in high-level competitions’.