BLOG: Using the athlete voice to drive meaningful change - James Hudson

Blog by Performance Nutritionist for Gloucester Rugby and former UKAD Athlete Commission member, James Hudson.

Every setback presents an opportunity, every injury or non-selection is a prompt to work harder, train harder and come out of the other side a better, more finished article. How many times have we thought this? The innate resilience necessary to compete at the top level and the thirst to improve is synonymous with athletes. A growth mindset is a part of talent ID rarely talked about rather than the height of your parents, but it is key to any success.

These strange times we live in have tested this resilience. Social media threads filled with creative ways to train, and athletes communicating with the outside world on how they are preparing for the return of their passion. Unfortunately, the general public is seeing a delayed Olympics and an understandably limited ability to test due to COVID-19 as an easy chance to heap more cynicism on clean sport. Journalists filling column inches with questions on the future of funding anti-doping on a global scale is adding to the need for a response.

There is no doubt the anti-doping world needs to respond positively but rather than ‘weather the storm’, why not use this chance to evolve and grow? Listen to the requests of athletes to improve the transparency and create a more independent structure. Remove the perceived and real conflicts of interest that create much of the public cynicism clouding clean sport. Adopt the mindset of opportunity and growth so familiar to the athletes you police.

My personal view on anti-doping has undoubtedly changed over the last two years as part of the UKAD Athlete Commission. From simply thinking its role was to catch cheats, the realisation that actually the primary function of anti-doping is to create a trustworthy support system for athletes was a sharp one.

Asked now what athletes can do, the honest answer is we need to take ownership of leading this ourselves and support each other. We are encouraged more than ever to talk. Openness needs to be encouraged about anti-doping in that it shouldn’t be taboo. Instagram feeds need to demonstrate this as much as the next workout or freebie sent by your agent. Project the values of clean sport and voice them wherever possible. Inform yourself and join the global platforms available to be part of positive change. Make the world realise the demand on registering whereabouts, providing samples and always being aware of your strict liability, but do it in a way which positively reinforces this is what is necessary to be a proud clean athlete.

UK athletes especially, realise your privilege in that UKAD is a world leading anti-doping organisation allowing you to prove your clean credentials in a way many international athletes crave. More than ever before the athlete voice is being listened to but the volume needs to keep rising for it to be truly heard.