British athletes demand stronger action from Wada on drug cheats
• Nearly 600 sign open letter asking to step up battle
• Past and present athletes involved; Paula Radcliffe among signatories
Nearly 600 British Olympic and Paralympic athletes have approved a private letter to the World Anti-Doping Agency warning sport is under threat because of its failure to tackle drug cheats.
The unprecedented and strongly worded letter, which was signed by 184 British world, Olympic and Paralympic medallists, including gold-medal winners from London 2012, also urges Wada to “conduct a full investigation of doping activities across any and all sports and countries about which there are proper grounds for suspicion”.
“As athletes we give our very selves to the pursuit of sporting excellence,” they write. “We rely on you to ensure that our efforts are not undermined or invalidated by those who cheat.”
The letter sent to Wada athletes’ commission chair, Beckie Scott, and passed on to the Wada president, Sir Craig Reedie, last month, concludes by warning of the consequences if the global anti-doping body fails to get tough with those who take performance-enhancing drugs.
“As those with the highest positions in global sport, it is your duty to protect and strengthen that which you represent,” the letter says. “We feel that the whole of sport is threatened at this time, when there are strong grounds for suspicion that are widely known.
“We ask you to do everything within your power to ensure that those athletes lining up in Rio and beyond can do so with confidence of a level playing field.”
The list of signatories has not been released but the Guardian has confirmed that Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon record holder, and Tanni Grey-Thompson, who won 16 Paralympic medals, are among those who put their names to the letter. The javelin thrower Goldie Sayers and 4x400m runner Andrew Steele, whose fourth places at 2008 Beijing Olympics are set to be upgraded to bronze medals after frozen blood and urine samples from those Games were retested, are also on the list.
Steele said: “Watching from the inside, I see that attendances and enthusiasm for track and field isn’t as thriving as it once was, and we need Wada to do much more. Most athletes are clean and want whatever it takes to make sport clean too.”
The letter was written by the London 2012 rowing gold medallist Anna Watkins, who chairs the athlete advisory group of the British Athletes Commission – a body that acts as an independent voice for elite athletes – and supported by Ben Hawes, the chair of the athletes’ commission of the British Olympic Association, as well as the GB Olympians alumni body.
Watkins said: “This is a voice of the clean majority trying to put pressure on what is a thick political soup. I sent the letter to our athletes asking for their thoughts. The fact there was such a massive response in a very short window, with so many heartfelt comments, shows the strength of feeling out there.”
Anna Watkins: ‘This is a voice of the clean majority.’ Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
She confirmed the letter had been signed by 401 British former Olympians or Paralympians as well as a further 190 who are expected to make their debuts in Rio later this summer.
“We wanted to act privately to start with but the message is clear: we need those that have the power in global sport to represent us and listen to us,” she added.
“We wrote the letter to Beckie Scott because she is our representative on the Wada board and I know she feels very strongly about tackling doping and we wanted to give added strength to her efforts.”
The emergence of the letter comes at a critical time for sport. On Friday the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s global governing body, meets in Vienna to decide whether Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at this year’s Olympics, after being suspended from international competition since November.
There are also continuing question marks over the strength of Kenya’s anti-doping efforts, with the country still considered noncompliant by Wada.
The UK Anti-Doping chief executive, Nicole Sapstead, said she welcomed news of the letter: “UK Anti-Doping welcomes and supports the British athletes’ letter to Wada and their’ call for more to be done by the global sporting community in combating doping. Every athlete, coach and fan has the right to clean competition – a right that Ukad vehemently protects.
“Earlier this year Ukad was appointed by Wada as the secretariat for a pre-Rio anti-doping taskforce, in which international federations and national anti-doping organisations work together on pre-Games testing programmes to ensure they are targeted, meaningful and effective.”
When British athletes were contacted by Watkins they were given the opportunity to include additional comments they wanted passing on to Wada. The strength of feeling is clear from their responses.
One writes: “It is my firm belief that the current systems of combating drug abuse in all world sports are failing. It is high time that what I suspect are the vast majority of sportsmen and women who abhor the practice are heard.”
Another warns of a consequences of a failure to act: “If people no longer believe in what they see, they quickly turn their backs.
“Do the right thing, investigate and expose the fraudsters and protect the honour and integrity of our sport.”
There are also critical comments from athletes about Wada itself, with one saying: “I feel totally let down by Wada,” and another insisting: “The truth has to come out, no matter how much people don’t want to hear it.”
The Guardian understands Reedie is yet to respond to the letter. However the Wada spokesman Ben Nichols said the organisation was aware of it. “Wada is pleased that athletes of the world are concerned by doping; and that, like the agency, these athletes have a strong interest in catching those who are cheating. Since this letter Wada has established the Sochi investigation, chaired by Professor Richard McLaren.
“Wada has taken, and continues to take, decisive action to ensure doping is uncovered. Wada highly values the role that athletes play in fighting doping.”
Posted on 14/06/2016
by Sara Heath