Sports, athletes, and (legal) drugs: A guide to Therapeutic Use Exemptions for banned substances

2 minute read
07 December 2021

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Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) first hit the headlines back in 2016 when Russian hackers released medical information about athletes who had applied for such exemptions from the International Olympic Committee (the "IOC"). Those athletes included sports superstars such as Serena Williams and Simone Biles – so, needless to say, the hack really put TUEs on the map. The truth is, TUEs have been available to Olympic athletes since the 1980s. The need arose when the IOC prohibited several classes of drugs used in common medicines. Originally, the mechanism was kept relatively quiet. It received very little publicity and was not included in the Medical Code of the Olympic Movement until 1991.

It wasn't until the birth of the World Anti-Doping Agency ("WADA"), which introduced the name and publicly approved the principles, that TUEs became more widely known. The IOC Medical Commission had been apprehensive that this mechanism could be abused if the availability of TUEs was publicized. Even though it's been almost 40 years since their inception, TUEs remain controversial and concerns surrounding their abuse live on.

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