Let me start off by introducing myself, my name is Ali Jawad and I have been fortunate enough to have represented Great Britain in Para Powerlifting at three Paralympic Games, culminating in the win of a Silver Medal in 2016 in Rio. I have also battled Crohn’s Disease since 2009.
Since the age of six, I have dreamt of winning gold at the Paralympics, hearing the national anthem, seeing the British flag raised and being on top of the podium. I have visualised this every day since. Therefore, sport has been my entire life and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. However, strangely enough, my other passion is the fight for Clean Sport and work that I accomplish within anti-doping. Why, do you ask?
My fascination with anti-doping started in my first week of starting Para Powerlifting aged 16, when my first coach ushered me into his office after a training session. What he was about to tell me was going to change my innocent understanding, of-mind in sport forever and start a lifelong obsession with protecting clean athletes and the fight for fairness. He said Powerlifting is the dirtiest sport at the Paralympics and to get to the highest of standards, a majority of lifters choose to enhance their abilities with drugs and administrators are not doing enough to protect clean athletes. He said in 10 years’ time, I maybe on the podium at a World Championship or a Paralympic Game and the lifters ahead of me may have doped. He carried on by saying I have two options, either dope and win at all costs, or sleep well at night knowing you’re the best clean athlete in the world regardless of the colour medal. But he added that if I don’t choose the latter I should get out of this gym as he only trains clean athletes.
As you can imagine, at 16 years this completely blew my mind, naively I always thought sport was fair and everyone followed the rules. This incensed me to a point that I actually had to go outside just to calm down and question whether the gold medal was worth it. However, in the same instance it gave me motivation to try hard and outsmart the dopers. Imagine beating a doping cheat naturally? IHowt gave me a desire to want to change the anti-doping system, to protect clean athletes and make the system accountable for its continued failings. So, from that day on, I was completely obsessed, I researched the whole system, the governance structure, the WADA code, and the athlete rights within it. I kept up to date with every doping story. Shaking up and changing the system to make it fair for clean athletes became as important to me as winning a Paralympic gold medal.
So, what have I learned 14 years on from that day? Well, we have experienced doping scandal after doping scandal with inconsistent sanctions and no transparency behind those decisions. The people that keep suffering are the ‘clean athletes’ who have no meaningful voice within the system to drive change. They have to rely on sports administrators who are completely out of touch from the daily realities. My ultimate frustration is that many anti-doping organisations claim to protect and value athletes, however athletes still have no significant voting rights on the WADA foundation board for any decisions that directly affect them.
Subsequently, when Versapak Doping Control Ltd approached to partner with me, it was refreshing that an organisation within the industry wanted to have athletes involved in their decision making to ensure their products were optimal. But the one thing that made Versapak stand out for me was their forward-thinking, supporting the athlete voice and showing a desire to ensure every ‘clean athlete’ is protected. They blog on current anti-doping issues, involve athletes in their podcasts and continue to challenge a system that still has a long way to go to gain athlete confidence. They seem to have taken the first step that many organisations within the system lack – embracing and supporting the athlete voice.
I am looking forward to going on this journey with Versapak fighting for increased athlete representation within anti-doping and increasing the standards for athletes globally.