The Role of Athlete Support Personnel

Science. Nutrition. Medicine. Psychology. Training. Competition. Rehabilitation. Strength and conditioning. They are key factors in the preparation of the modern day athlete.

Sport has become a practice of marginal gains and now, more than ever, athletes rely on the expertise, guidance and advice from a wide network of support personnel in order to maximise their potential and achieve their goals.

Every day expert coaches, nutritionists, scientists and medical professionals, as well as parents and teachers, support athletes in their decision-making. They are the backbone of any athlete. For every medal, there is a network of support staff all playing their part in that success. There is a team behind the team.

It is therefore crucial that coaches and support staff are able to help athletes compete, and win, clean. In order to do this support personnel must be educated and informed on their own rights and responsibilities, and those of their athletes in relation to clean sport and anti-doping requirements. They hold a position of trust, and therefore play a pivotal role in protecting clean sport.

It is a commonly held belief that all support and coaching staff have their athlete’s best interests at heart. Their desire to see their athlete win clean is often as strong, if not stronger, than the athlete’s.

There will always be people who want to cheat their way to success. People who want the easy win. People who are prepared to take a shortcut. People who want to win no matter what the cost. This isn’t unique to athletes. Sadly, in a number of recent cases it has come to light that a small minority of support staff will abuse their position of power to influence their charges to break the rules.

This has been recognised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) around the world. The World Anti-Doping Code outlines exactly what is expected from support personnel in terms of their responsibilities and the rule violations that apply to them.

A key aspect of protecting sport and a growing area within the prevention effort is the use of intelligence in combatting the supply of prohibited substances from source, preventing their distribution and use. It has been recognised that more often than not that supply may come from those around the athlete – an athlete rarely acts alone.

So, under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code, support personnel can be sanctioned for the possession or trafficking of a prohibited substance, knowingly working with an athlete who is using a prohibited substance (also known as complicity), administration of prohibited substances to athletes and tampering with the doping control process.

Last month, WADA published the global Prohibited Association List which names 114 athlete support personnel who are currently banned from sport for an anti-doping rule violation. The list also includes the names of individuals who are not subject to anti-doping rules, but have been sanctioned under equivalent disciplinary rules in the last six years.

Published quarterly, the list firmly places the onus on athletes and sports to know who is coaching, treating or supporting them. In the same way that athletes are strictly liable for any illicit substance in their system, they are now wholly responsible for the personnel with whom they surround themselves.

It is important to recognise that education plays a pivotal role in this preventative approach. Not only do the athletes need to be educated on their responsibilities in selecting a support team, but the sports themselves need to take greater responsibility for who forms part of their set-up.

Likewise, support personnel need to know and understand their duty of care to their athletes, and recognise that they need to play by the rules. But it’s also about empowering the support staff. Giving them the knowledge they need to protect their athletes from inadvertent doping and to support and guide their athletes to make the right choices through the use of key risk management tools and to play within the rules and spirit of sport.

UKAD’s flagship education programme, 100% me, does exactly that. With sessions tailored specifically for athletes, coaches and support staff, our aim is to ensure that they have everything they need to make the right choices, fulfil their responsibilities and stand on that podium knowing they have won clean.

Recently UKAD has partnered with the English Institute of Sport (EIS) who have taken positive action to ensure that all their athlete-facing staff have committed to, and are informed about, their clean sport responsibilities by completing UKAD’s online Advisor programme. This is available to everyone and is designed to enable people to advise athletes on anti-doping good practice and direct them effectively to further information. For more, and to take the course please visit the UKAD Learning Zone.

Full details on Prohibited Association can be found in the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code. For more information visit our Athlete Support Personnel page or contact the UKAD Education Team via education@ukad.org.uk.

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