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Cheats must not prosper

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Column by Niels de Vos, UK Athletics Chief Executive, as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine

 

6 February 2008

 

The wonderful sport of athletics is never more in the public consciousness and under the searching spotlight than in Olympic year.

 

Unfortunately, that means as well as the welcome attention that the thrill and the buzz of competition brings comes the critical eye of the cynics, quick to poke and prod away at the problems facing the sport.

 

In light of high profile drug scandals involving the likes of Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin it is understandable for the public and media to question the very fabric of our sport.

 

That is why it is more important than ever for UK Athletics to draw a line in the sand and take a stance against the small minority of athletes who willingly and calculatingly cheat.

 

It is often easier to remain ignorant, stand back and turn the other cheek, but in doing so you compound the problem and allow it to fester.

 

We can no longer afford to simply cross our fingers and hope the cheats are found and ousted. We can certainly no longer welcome back proven ‘cheats’ into the fold in the way we have in the past. This is not simply a UKA responsibility, it is the responsibility of the sport. Excommunication by ones peers (be they fellow athletes, club members, coaches or competition organisers) might prove the most effective deterrent of all. That is why we have recently instigated a wide ranging review of our anti-doping policy.

 

Athletics is one of the most scrutinised and heavily tested sports in the UK; we were one of the first sports to sign up to out of competition testing. We are proud of our tough approach and we must remain subject to such a rigorous regime. But we can and must do more.

 

I welcome new WADA chief John Fahey’s call for a more stringent approach and more out of competition testing, but we need greater harmony across sports and across countries. I also applaud the BOA’s strength of character imposing a lifetime ban from representing GB at the Olympics.

 

I want to make it clear to anyone thinking of putting on a pair of spikes that there is no place in our sport for drug cheats. Apologists will always argue that our athletes must be treated no worse than those worse in the world. I would agree that we must lead the world rather than follow, the role of UKA would then be to lobby WADA and IAAF to adopt our standards. But to truly win the fight against drugs we need every sport in every nation working together under the same ruthless rules.

 

The minority in athletics who use drugs are brutal and merciless in their quest to dupe and defraud and we must match their guile if we are stamp them out. If nothing else we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of clean athletes around the world who get to the highest stage through dedication, commitment and bloody hard work. This means not only detection, but ensuring that the deterrent of the punishment is sufficient to dissuade in the first place – currently I do not believe this is so.

 

Words mean nothing in the fight against drugs in sport: action is everything. Therefore sport has to work closer with crime fighting agencies to gain prosecutions and anti doping agencies, like our own UK Sport, must continue to invest in science if we want to stay ahead of the game.

 

With the spotlight on us in this Olympic year we must grasp the opportunity at every level of the sport – nationally and internationally – to show the cheats that we shall do all we can to test you, trace you and throw you out.