Athletes' Forum Summary
Your questions answered
Thanks to everyone who came along to our Athletes’ Forum in Cambridge the other week. Great to meet some of our BMX racing team – good luck with the racing in Europe!
Our aim was to give athletes a look behind the scenes, have an open discussion and an opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns or give feedback. We work to protect clean athletes, and we want to have the interests of those athletes at the heart of our anti-doping work. If you missed the session, we’ll announce more dates in coming months. So stay tuned, or check out the summary below.
Introduction: Chief Executive Nick Paterson welcomed everyone, and talked about DFSNZ’s work overseas with WADA, and how he advocates for Kiwi athletes by:
- Campaigning for other countries to hold their athletes, coaches and support people to the same high standards and strict rules as Kiwi athletes
- Lobbying for changes to the World Anti-Doping Code on issues that affect Kiwi sportspeople, such as getting a definition of a “recreational athlete”, allowing a more flexible range of sanctions, and requesting that cannabis be removed from the Prohibited List.
Nick Paterson said: “Drug Free Sport NZ believes that most Kiwi athletes are clean. Our anti-doping programme is focused on supporting those clean athletes, by providing them with information to help them stay clean and avoid inadvertent violations. We want to give them comfort that they can compete on a level playing field. The drive for our work is no longer just about positive test results.”
1: Should we put more emphasis on countries that have no anti-doping, instead of just Russia? Can the International Federations help?
An important part of DFSNZ’s role is to lobby WADA on behalf of Kiwi athletes to get other countries to clean up sport. We are building stronger partnerships with international federations such as the IAAF to coordinate testing and share results. Our aim is that Kiwi athletes are not separately tested by two different organisations in an uncoordinated way. We also want to work with International Federations to test in countries where it can be difficult to find athletes. Tom Walsh recently said that he wants to break the world record and that the historical record is probably from an athlete who wasn’t clean. This is why DFSNZ lobbies WADA: to demand that athletes from other countries are held to the same high standards as our Kiwi athletes.
2: Are we at risk of negatively judging every Russian athlete because of the state-sponsored doping scandal? How do we move past that?
Yes we are at risk of making that kind of judgement until we can get to the end of the Russian doping saga. That is why the Russian Lab data is so important. That data will identify athletes who won medals when they shouldn’t have. It will also prove which Russian athletes were clean - so that the reputation of the clean athletes is not tarnished by those who cheated.
We all want to move on, but we shouldn’t do so until it is properly resolved. There are clean athletes who missed out on medals at the Olympic Games because they were beaten by people who cheated.
3: How come I haven’t been tested at home – only in-competition? Am I going to get a knock on the door at home?
We can test anyone who is in a sport that is signed up to the sports anti-doping rules, and yes we can test them anywhere, including at home.
But in practice we only have limited resources. We focus our testing on high performance athletes, and not normally at the lower end of sport. Even within that, we don’t always want to test every athlete randomly at home.
4: What is the procedure for adding people onto the National Testing Pool (NTP) or Regional Testing Pool (RTP), and taking them off again?
It’s a judgement call for us. Our main aim is to support clean athletes, so we will always put athletes on the National Testing Pool (NTP) before the Registered Testing Pool (RTP) because the consequences aren’t as strict and we want athletes to get used to the system.
We want to try and help you. Usually we’d rather not put you on the Whereabouts system if we know where to find you for a test. Some athletes have to go on the testing pool as they are winning medals!
5: Is it possible to alter the Whereabouts text message service, so that it doesn’t come from a different phone number every time? It feels like I’m getting spammed, but it’s only DFSNZ.
We’ll look into it and let you know! Great to know that this is a pain point, will see what we can do.
6. Some age group athletes might just turn up to events and click “yes” to accepting the rules, but may not necessarily know about anti-doping. How do we promote the message to these athletes?
We’d like to work with race and event organisers so that there is more information available in registration packs, and at events. Having a statement on registration forms that reminds participants that they are bound to the sports anti-doping rules and a link to the DFSNZ website is a good start.
We’re grateful to the sports that already partner with us. Please keep inviting us to events and tell us what education initiatives are most useful. Or talk to us about how we can better work with your sport.
7: How can sports organisations help DFSNZ to educate or catch athletes who could doping, or passing on incorrect information to younger athletes?
Please remind your athletes of the importance of clean sport, and that they are bound by the sports anti-doping rules. Provide a link to DFSNZ’s website, share our educational videos and follow us on social media. Contact us if you’d like a demo of our new virtual reality doping control experience.
Want more information? Give us a call on 0800 DRUG FREE (378 437) or drop us a line. Or invite us to come and chat with you - we’re really keen to hear your questions and feedback.
If you see unusual behaviour or are worried about doping in your sport, we have a dedicated team ready to take your call and receive that sort of information, and all in confidence. You can do it anonymously if you like. Ring 0800 DRUG FREE and ask to speak to Intel, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
8: Is pursuing “recreational” athletes a good use of your resources?
Our obligations are to uphold the Sports Anti-Doping Rules (SADR) in NZ. We consult with sports organisations to make the SADR each year, but we are required by law to make the SADR to reflect WADA’s World Anti-Doping Code. The SADR require us to take action when we become aware of evidence against someone, at any level.
We believe that turning a blind eye to doping in sport – at any level - is not going to end well. Our work is aimed at protecting the integrity of competition, or the “spirit of sport”, and protecting the health of our sports people. If you want to see an example of when this goes badly wrong, look no further than this low-level British athlete.
It may sound tough from one perspective but how happy would you be to compete against someone taking steroids, even at a local club level for instance? Could it stop people taking part? Might it stop kids being encouraged to take part?
But don’t forget this doesn’t mean we’ll be testing participants at all levels of sport. Our testing programme is normally focussed on the higher levels of sport and those tracking towards that level.
Although, if we become aware of information that suggests that there is a problem within a sport at any level, then we are obliged to investigate.
9: Should you be chasing athletes who are taking drugs just to look good?
If a person is taking a substance on WADA’s Prohibited List, these substances are not allowed in sport. Don’t forget that weight loss can be performance-enhancing; for example, if it means you can run or swim faster. A high strength-to-mass ratio is beneficial in many sports.
Taking substances on the Prohibited List also comes with health risks. If a substance is on the List, it’s not a benign weight loss product. Our aim remains to educate all athletes, and partner with sports organisations and others to protect and promote clean sport.
Ultimately we’re required under the current WADA Code to take a case, and it’s for the Sports Tribunal to decide whether they accept the evidence that is put forward.
Some of the cases that we take are where people have made mistakes. First we try and prevent mistakes through education, and by partnering with sports organisations to spread the word. But we also take a lot of care in talking to athletes after they test positive. Once a positive test is received, we don’t have much room to move. But if we have to take a case forward, we try and do it gently. We really do care about the athletes involved, and we’re trying to get WADA’s rules around sanctions for lower level athletes changed.
10: What is your policy on “social” drugs such as cannabis?
WADA still has cannabis on the Prohibited List. Every year we ask WADA to take it off the list (sigh). Our job is to educate athletes about the status of cannabis in sport, and we must test for it too.
DFSNZ doesn’t want to be catching athletes with cannabis in their system: we want to catch drug cheats.
11: What would you do if you had more money?
We have a programme now which we think is very good. But if we won Lotto? We’d invest in technology, to make anti-doping easier for you. We’d invest in more education, to help protect clean athletes and stop people from making inadvertent mistakes. We’d look at intelligence more closely, to focus our efforts even more on the few individuals out there who are determined to take a short cut.
Answers provided by Chief Executive Nick Paterson, and Director of Testing and Investigations Jude Ellis. DFSNZ Board Member Sarah Ulmer ONZM also contributed.