Paralympic star Henson: Invictus Games anti-doping education will help “protect sport”

Athletes preparing to compete in the 2018 Invictus Games, which get underway on Saturday, received education from UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) for the first time over the summer, when the National Anti-Doping Organisation attended a series of roadshows in partnership with Help for Heroes.

Currently, the Invictus Games are not compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, and therefore do not have to abide by anti-doping rules.

But with many Invictus Games athletes traditionally going on to become part of the Paralympic pathway with the British Paralympic Association (BPA), UKAD and Help for Heroes joined forces to give athletes an insight into anti-doping rules and responsibilities.

Former Invictus Games athlete, Dave Henson MBE, who went on to win a 200m (T42) bronze medal for ParalympicsGB at Rio 2016, spoke to UKAD about his anti-doping education experiences and how this year’s partnership will benefit Invictus Games competitors.

Heading into the Invictus Games, to what extent were you aware of anti-doping rules and regulations generally for athletes?

I had a general understanding about anti-doping heading into the first Invictus Games. I was aware of the general rules about drug taking in sport, and what the repercussions were for athletes that took them, but I had no idea about the protocols that exist to protect sport from those taking performance enhancing drugs.

Having progressed onto the Paralympics pathway following your Invictus Games participation, how daunting was it to be faced with the anti-doping responsibilities?

It was a little unnerving at first being faced with the anti-doping regulations, as there are lot of everyday medications that are either completely banned or banned during competition, such as certain types of cold and flu-medicine. There is a real danger of accidental doping that has cost athletes their careers, and it was nerve-wracking being faced with this as a possibility. The actual process of being tested is usually quite familiar though, and follows a very similar format to the drug tests that are common in military units.

How helpful would it have been to have received anti-doping education earlier in your athletics career? To what extent would it benefit athletes to have this as part of their preparations for the Invictus Games?

I felt that I received excellent insight into anti-doping very early into my athletics career, and certainly had an advantage in that respect by going through the ‘Frontline to Startline’ programme (a military-specific talent ID programme launched by Help for Heroes and the British Paralympic Association). However, I do think that any athlete who takes part in competitive sport should be made aware of the responsibilities they have as an athlete, and the repercussions if they fail to meet those responsibilities.

As a former Invictus Games athlete, do you feel the Games should be subject to the same anti-doping rules as other major events, such as the Paralympics?

No, I don't think the Invictus Games should be subject to the same rules as the Paralympics. I think some of the competitors at the Games who are at an elite level should be tested during the event, but more as an education piece for the other competitors than anything else. The Games themselves are an event to promote and support recovery. There is a pathway into elite sport, which is why I think the education is important, but full-scale testing would provide an unnecessary additional stress and administrative burden on those individuals taking part.