ALI JAWAD BLOG 5 – Should Anti-Doping Education be incorporated within sports degrees at universities?
There have been many instances where athletes have claimed they unknowingly ingested the prohibited substances, or they were advised by their Athlete Support Personnel (ASP) to take a supplement (that was unknowingly contaminated). This is considered as inadvertent doping. Therefore, anti-doping education is a key prevention strategy used by anti-doping organisations to protect the principles of clean sport and encourages an environment where athletes and ASP practice doping free behaviours within sport. Education has an important role in reinforcing athletes’ responsibilities within sport to compete drug free and fairly.
Athletes are solely responsible for any substance within their bodies, known as strict liability and will still be punished for inadvertent doping. However, is it justifiable to expect athletes to adhere to strict liability with many complexities within the anti-doping system and should it be made broader, if it is proven that athletes were ingenuously taking guidance from their trusted ASP? I am not suggesting to relax the strict liability rule, however, the anti-doping system needs to appreciate that athletes heavily rely on their ASP to make an informed decision, therefore, there is a suggestion that staff need to be more informed than the athletes themselves in order to provide such advice.
The anti-doping system is considered by many to be very complicated, but expects athletes to adhere to strict, vast and complex rules and then impose the strict liability rule to enforce inconsistent sanctions, without consideration on where the information originated. Inadvertent doping cases suggest there are endless issues with athletes’ understanding of the current system. The system is too complex for all athletes to be expected to understand it in its entirety. It is imperative that athletes receive guidance from trusted sources that give them confidence in the system, therefore ASP are important to not only influence positive practices, but to provide guidance for athletes so that they fully adhere to strict liability. Subsequently, the system is too strict on athletes and lenient on ASP. After all, athletes just want to compete, they are not experts in anti-doping, so why does the system expect them to be solely responsible on variables where they lack expertise?
Staff are only experts within their scientific professions, not necessarily anti-doping, as many are not exposed to anti-doping rules or practices until they start working in competitive sport. Therefore, many ASP lack the appropriate skills to help advise athletes. ASP are often required to learn complex information rapidly in order to advise athletes. This fast track approach may make some ASP reluctant in advising athletes in fear of giving incorrect information. Hence, many ASP are protected behind the strict liability rule imposed upon athletes. Therefore, increasing the likelihood of athletes making avoidable mistakes.
Thus, what is the most efficient way to educate future ASP before they start working with competitive athletes? Something I have advocated recently is universities implementing anti-doping within their sports degrees curriculum, in order to educate students on the realities of working with competitive athletes. Students on sport related courses are potentially the coaches, sports scientists, physio’s etc. of the future, therefore does it not make sense that they receive anti-doping education within their degrees in order to become knowledgeable, informed and capable of advising athletes? This allows a progressive approach in which they can learn about the system and make them competent when advising their future athletes.
It is widely accepted that there are varying standards of anti-doping education around the world. However, if governments around the world started to implement anti-doping education within sports’ courses or sporting degrees, it could lead to minimising the risk of athletes making preventable mistakes and allow future staff to feel comfortable advising athletes, rather than the system constantly expecting and penalising athletes on variables where they lack expertise.