Board members are strong role models and advocates for clean sport: Dr Claire-Marie Roberts reflects on six years on the Board of UK Anti-Doping

Dr Claire

I have spent a lifetime in high performance sport. As an athlete (international swimmer, football player, masters athlete), to be able to compete on a level playing field was of the utmost importance to me. Later, as a sport psychologist supporting elite athletes through their own journeys and experiences reinforced to me what a complex area anti-doping is in practice. I knew that my unique combination of experiences in sport could help support UKAD and the incredibly important role that they play in making sport a fairer place for everyone. This prompted me to apply to join the Board back in 2017. 

A UKAD Board member has the responsibility of contributing to the strategy of the organisation and to hold the organisation to account in the delivery of that strategy which is ultimately designed to protect clean sport. This is for the benefit for athletes, for sport and for the public. Additionally, I think it’s important that Board Members are strong role models for and advocates of clean sport. I always maintain that in order to make a difference, you have to be active in expressing your viewpoint. I have been fortunate in that the support of my colleagues on the UKAD Board has meant that I have never felt alone in that. Although many matters in the anti-doping context can end up becoming very emotive, for me, the importance of emphasizing the facts, and trying to be objective as possible helps the manner in which the message is received. 

Being a Non-Executive Director of UKAD has provided me with rich and formative experiences. One of the many features of the Board is its diversity. The effectiveness of decision-making with such diversity was always a powerful lesson to me. There were many angles to examine critical issues from – some of them were not in my awareness until they were tabled by others from different backgrounds and with different perspectives. In addition, I have learned so much about the inner workings of Government, the role of an Arms Length Body, the impact of politics on sport, the challenges of trying to achieve maximum effectiveness with a limited budget, how to protect critical services such as anti-doping in a global pandemic. 

I am continually impressed with UKAD’s ability to adapt and evolve to the fast pace of change in sport. There have been some key organisational achievements in the last six years that I’m very proud of. Firstly, the ability to influence changes in WADA policy, specifically the downgrading of bans for out-of-competition recreational drug use in exchange for the completion of a drug rehabilitation programme. This is a topic I feel very passionate about and I remember presenting the idea at my Board interview. Secondly, the creation and implementation of the Innovation Commission and the strengthened focus on empirical research in anti-doping – I know this approach will serve clean sport well now and into the future. Finally, the creation of the Assurance Framework to ensure anti-doping compliance is universally achievable for all national governing bodies of sport, regardless of size and level of resource. 

I am perpetually impressed with the level of dedication people working in this sector demonstrate to securing clean sport. If I returned at any point to a high level of athletic competition, I would have the confidence that there is an exceptional body of people motivated to protect sport. I know that UKAD’s attentions are carefully balanced between the ‘here and now’ and the future of anti-doping.

To new Board Members, I would say – take every opportunity you can to get out to see the breadth of work UKAD deliver. From testing operations at major tournaments, the delivery of education, conferences, and visits to different sports….and be prepared to be impressed! There is no substitute for seeing this all-in action.

Finally, don’t hesitate in speaking out. I have always found the UKAD Board to be characterised by a high degree of psychological safety. As a result, you can check and challenge confidently. Although – be prepared to listen carefully too – we rarely agreed on everything, but you will always be heard.