29 July 2012

UK Anti-Doping: Working towards a clean Games

By Andy Parkinson

Roll back 24 years and I had just started my first year of a Sports Science degree. If you were a sports fan in 1988, you were either in the camp of Ben Johnson or Carl Lewis. I was a Ben Johnson fan and thought his power and speed phenomenal, a real example of quality and explosive sprinting.

I do not know if his subsequent positive test and disqualification subconsciously led me to a career in anti-doping but I will never forget my bitter disappointment when he was caught and how I felt conned into supporting what we all know now was as a very chemical performance.

In 2012, everyone at UK Anti-Doping feels the weight of responsibility to help make sure that this does not happen to current sports fans from around the world now focussed on London.

The fight against doping in sport has come a long way since 1988, with the formation of WADA a major landmark in that time. In the UK the first impact that the Games had on the anti-doping environment was that it acted as a catalyst to reform the way the World Anti-Doping Code was implemented in the UK.

The horizon of the Games provided a focus for anti-doping administrators and government alike to ensure that the UK took the opportunity to create its first independent agency. In doing so UK Anti-Doping took responsibility for the results management function of National Federations in the UK and as importantly started to build an intelligence capability.

Both have been equally important to how we operate but when looking at how we have approached our distinct role in the lead up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the organisation’s ability to capture, analyse and use intelligence has been of most impact. It has instilled a methodology to our assessment of risk and provided a much needed sharpness to all our activities.

Our education activities are aligned with our risk assessment of each sport and discipline, our testing is more targeted than ever and our ambition to share information with law enforcement partners has been realised.

London 2012 seeks to be the cleanest Games possible and to do this we must all conduct ever more advanced practices, knowing that those seeking to gain an unfair advantage will do so using increasingly sophisticated techniques.

At UK Anti-Doping we have made a strong statement to all athletes coming to London; they can and should expect to be tested in the UK in the same way that our own athletes are. We are working in partnership with other National Anti-Doping Organisations, with International Federations and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that we can be as intelligence-led as possible when it comes to the planning and delivery of our testing programs.

By researching substances, profiling sports, and sharing information with partners, our Intelligence team can help us test the right people at the right time. We now have a better understanding of the doping risks in each sport and the testing windows for specific substances and methods, and these will be used to inform our activities. Athletes will be tested without notice as part of the organisation’s pre-Games period anti-doping programme on this basis.

As the host nation for this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, the UK believes it is the collective responsibility of the sporting community to do all it can to ensure that only clean athletes enter the Olympic and Paralympic villages this summer. However we also understand that as an organisation and as a nation, we are better resourced than many and are able to run comprehensive anti-doping programs. This extends not just to testing athletes, but also to educating them of their anti-doping rights and responsibilities.

Athletes in the UK are fortunate in that they have access to support and resources. They are regularly tested and as a result we hope there is greater public confidence in their achievements as clean athletes. Our athlete support system is there to help them, providing relevant and tailored education and advice, while online resources such as Global DRO help them make the right decisions whenever they might need it.

But for an international event of such magnitude we recognise we needed to do more. Again, as a result of the Games, the UK Government, WADA, London 2012 organizing committee LOCOG and UK Anti-Doping launched the ‘Win Clean: Say No to Doping’ campaign last year, seeking to educate those athletes coming from abroad in what to expect when they come to the Games.

From the moment they step on to UK soil, we want them to be proud to be clean athletes and clean athletes deserve the best support possible. Our intention is to use this campaign for future events, educating more international athletes who may be competing in the UK.

Sport is an expensive and valuable business; the Olympic and Paralympic Games are worth billions of dollars, an individual gold can turn an athlete into a millionaire overnight. But the real value in sport is public confidence that the sport they watch is free from doping and that every medallist standing on the podium is proud of their achievements as a clean athlete.

By supporting the excellent work of LOCOG, the IOC and the IPC, UK Anti-Doping is playing its role in helping clean athletes achieve their dreams later this year.