9 January 2012

Yona Walesi Plays True in Innsbruck

Coaches and athletes visiting WADA’s Play True Generation Center during the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck will be able to learn about anti-doping from one of their own - former Olympic swimmer and now coach Yona Walesi of Malawi.

Yona will be joining the six-strong WADA team in Austria and his knowledge of competing in sport at the highest level, and then working with athletes as a coach, will bring valuable experience to the Agency’s activities.

Having competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and the All Africa Games the following year, Yona overcame a series of hurdles to reach the pinnacle of sport by swimming at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The engaging 32-year-old now swim and lifeguard coach at St. Andrews High School in his native Malawi, and committed to spreading the anti-doping message to athletes and coaches alike.

“The coach-athlete relationship is at the centre of sport - the relationship could never be healthy and clean if both parties were not aware of doping issues, which are taught through a friendly, chatty format at WADA’s booths,” explained Yona.

“Being part of the team in Innsbruck is exciting for me since it will help inform upcoming youth and coaches on anti-doping issues.

“I believe that by educating youth we can go a long way to eliminating the issue of cheating through doping, and also promote athletes’ well being.

“Young athletes will be able to impart their learning experience to their respective homes and training centers after the Games, thereby reaching out to other young athletes worldwide.”

WADA first met Yona at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England when he visited the Agency’s Outreach Program.

Feeling a strong connection between his own values and those communicated by WADA, Yona volunteered his services in Manchester and at subsequent events where he was competing and WADA had activities.

“The friendly environment was the most exciting factor that motivated me to get more involved and also to encourage my fellow teammates to visit the booth,” Yona explained.

“At the booth you come across happy faces willing to share great information about anti doping, and also give away some smart presents. Since then, I have been an ambassador for WADA in my country and beyond.”

In 2006, Yona told WADA’s Play True Magazine: "We need to reach the young in our countries, so they can grow up with clean minds. I would much rather be a loser than a cheating winner."

WADA’s Play True Generation Program, which is used to educate young athletes about the consequences of doping, will be on-site at the inaugural Winter Games from January 13-24.