BLOG: UKAD Chief Exec recognises collective responsibility to support pressurised athletes

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) was represented at the Sports Ethics and Integrity Conference in Cardiff this week, as Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead was invited to sit on a panel to discuss 360-degree current care for athletes.

Nicole shares her thoughts on the event and what UKAD and partners can do to keep athlete wellbeing at the forefront of anti-doping.

As an organisation tasked with upholding integrity in sport when it comes to anti-doping, UKAD also has a wider responsibility to protect athletes’ welfare on a number of levels.

The Sports Ethics and Integrity Conference brought together a range of stakeholders from across UK sport, all of whom have a role to play in this highly important, but sometimes overlooked area.

As a regulator, UKAD is in a slightly different position to other organisations such as National Governing Bodies (NGBs) or Sports Councils as, whilst a core function of what we do is educate athletes and athlete support personnel, we prosecute some of them too.

A topic discussed at length at our annual Clean Sport Forum earlier this month was the pressures that surround athletes. We are seeing a significant increase in athletes suffering from mental health issues. All the pressures surrounding an athlete, including the drivers that led them to decide to dope, should not be overlooked; particularly when UKAD prosecutes an athlete. This adds to that pressure and that has the potential to make that individual more vulnerable or put them at risk.

This is where we look to the NGBs to provide the necessary support and care to those facing a doping charge; to signpost them to where they might seek the necessary help.

Another area where UKAD has a duty of care to athletes is within our testing programme, especially when it comes to testing minors and vulnerable adults. We have an obligation to put measures in place to make sure they’re protected during the doping control process; a process that can be seen as intrusive and intimate.

Submitting to doping control is a reality of being at the elite end of sport. While NGBs have a responsibility to have parental consent forms in place, we have a responsibility alongside the NGBs to ensure that the parents have all the necessary information to enable them to make an informed decision when it comes to consenting to their child being tested. UKAD is currently working on a resource specifically aimed at parents to meet this need as well as a number of key messages, given the critical influence a parent can have on an athlete’s life.

Being aware of the pressures and risks athletes are exposed to is only the first step, but an important one, and it’s imperative for the relevant bodies to have processes in place to support athletes in situations where vulnerabilities can arise.

At UKAD, we have a Safeguarding Policy which means staff, Doping Control Personnel and National Trainers are all trained on safeguarding issues. We also have a dedicated person on both UKAD’s board and the senior management team to ensure we are meeting our obligations and discharging our responsibility diligently and appropriately. Should information be passed to us that highlights a potential safeguarding issue, this is prioritised and even if there is a doping angle to it, the welfare of an individual takes priority and the information is passed on to individuals or organisations that can do something about it.

It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye and say it isn’t our problem. Just because we are unable to do something about it doesn’t mean others cannot, so often it is simply about passing on information to people who can assess the situation and decide what to do about it. The responsibility sits with us all.