UKAD CEO Nicole Sapstead: Anti-doping operations continue at UKAD

Warning to athletes and coaches from chief executive, who says they are “strongly mistaken” if they believe the rules can be broken amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) Chief Executive, Nicole Sapstead spoke to BBC Sport this week to highlight how the Covid-19 outbreak is affecting UKAD’s operations. With many sporting competitions postponed indefinitely and the introduction of government measures on social distancing, UKAD announced on 17 March 2020 that it has “significantly reduced” testing due to the global pandemic. 

Due to the cancellation of sporting events, the ‘In-Competition’ part of UKAD’s testing has stopped. However, Sapstead made it clear that athletes can still be tested ‘any time, any place’. 

Other anti-doping agencies around the world have halted their testing programmes, and Sapstead’s comments came shortly after the US Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) head, Travis Tygart said that there is a “window of opportunity” for athletes who are not “willing to compete clean”. 

The message from Sapstead is clear, as she warned that UKAD would come after potential drug cheats who believe that they are off the radar. 

UKAD’s priorities are the health and safety of the athletes and doping control personnel, and while the testing programme has reduced, it is one part of a successful and complex anti-doping programme. UKAD’s Intelligence and Investigations team is still receiving and analysing intelligence from a variety of sources, as well as utilising data to help inform other activities, conduct interviews and investigations during this time.

Nicole Sapstead said: "There will always be a minority that will seek to dope, and whether that is now, when they think they are effectively off the radar of national anti-doping organisations, or at any other time, my message to them is very, very clear - we will continue to process intelligence, we will continue to monitor whereabouts, and we will continue to monitor the raft of information we have available to us, such as the athlete biological passports.

"All of this helps us to gain a picture of what an athlete might be doing during this time. And if they think they are going to get away with cheating then they are strongly, strongly mistaken.”

UKAD is also using this time to focus on educating sport and support personnel to reinforce roles and responsibilities in maintaining a clean sport environment. To provide as much support as possible, all of UKAD’s Clean Sport education programmes will be delivered online through webinars until further notice. A vital part of UKAD’s operations is providing anti-doping education, so digital learning has been amplified to meet the needs of athletes and athlete support personnel during this unique period.

Sapstead stated: “Coronavirus is having an unprecedented effect on our society and has impacted us all. As we’ve seen, sport has been severely hit by the virus-related restrictions. It is a hugely unsettling time for athletes, coaches and many employed in the sector. 

“UKAD has adapted to the situation as best as possible given the current constraints. All aspects of our operations have been impacted, but we have a brilliant team here which is working very hard to ensure we uphold our responsibility to protect sport. 

“Sport is going to play a huge part in pulling our society together again, once this has passed, so we understand how important our role is in that. We want to ensure that when activities ramp up, the public will be able to have confidence in clean competition and its athletes, because of the efforts our team has made.”