BLOG: Ali Jawad - "We are in a great position in the UK where we are able to have a voice"
In the last couple of years, athletes have chosen collectively to speak out about anti-doping. The big appetite they have is for a say in decision making - athletes are demanding that sports organisations are made accountable. We want to be treated fairly. The problem is the restrictions on athletes because they are outside the governance structures.
We are in a great position in the UK where we are able to have a voice, whereas we can see athletes in other countries struggling. When I go abroad the mindset is so different, we are so lucky with the attitudes we have here.
Without athletes nothing would exist in sport. We should have a say in how sport is run. We can help sports administrators with decisions, we should not be dismissed. If an organisation is transparent about how it’s run, athletes can be better informed about the decision process. It should be a two-way conversation every step of the way, not just some information once in a while. The existing management structures should change.
I spend time researching international sports governance and anti-doping because it interests me, but some athletes rely on their organisation to guide them and then when things happen that they are not comfortable with, they do not know the right questions to ask.
Organisations should genuinely listen to athlete concerns. Athletes felt with Russia that WADA did not listen to the concerns of its biggest stakeholder group. There were processes in place for the decisions WADA made, and that can be understood with hindsight, but it felt so secretive and athletes did not understand at the time.
Athletes having a vote in decision making is the way forward. We should have the opportunity to vote for a future WADA president but it would take a lot of planning to achieve. Ideally athletes should be represented on all sports governing bodies. Voting rights generally lie with sports administrators who, we could argue, have political motivations to maintain, which may not be in the best interests of athletes.
The challenge is finding a way to select athlete representatives. One way in which an athlete chosen to sit at the governance table could ensure their vote is representative is to be a conduit for the collective view of the already established athlete commissions. They could use their vote, not as an individual, but as the representative of the collective voice.
There are challenges ahead. The commissions do not agree on certain things and there would need to be consensus. Some commissions are elected and others are appointed or hand-picked. What are the next steps? We need to keep pushing for reform and not let the momentum die. We need to reach out to our athlete networks. It’s really important for athletes to have a relationship with the next WADA president.
At the WADA Symposium in Lausanne there was a huge appetite amongst athletes for a vote at the governance table. The WADA Athlete Committee members led discussions and we had diverse views about how we could achieve our aim, it now needs further debate.
It’s a very exciting time for athletes and we should embrace it. Athlete representation is the main topic of conversation when I talk to international colleagues. Global Athlete, the new start up which aims to inspire athletes and drive change in sport, is trying to be the bridge between athletes and their commissions to ensure closer links.
When UKAD Athlete Commission members meet members of international commissions, we are reminded how fortunate we are in the sports governance standards we have and in freedom of speech. It is clear that athletes in other countries have less political freedom and cannot express their views for fear of losing their funding. Anti-doping is low on the agenda for those countries and we are aware how lucky we are in the UK. I look forward to the time when WADA has improved the situation in other countries.