The Athlete’s Voice: An Athlete’s Call for Anti-Doping Reform

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Lauryn Williams is one of a handful of athletes to compete in both a summer and winter Olympic Games winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in the 100m as well as a silver medal at 2014 Olympic Games in the bobsled. Below is her first hand account of the burden clean athletes face.

By Lauryn Williams

Ever had your privacy invaded? Ever felt like you were being treated as guilty until proven innocent? Both of these statements apply to drug testing, and it sucks.

If you are a man, imagine that you are a woman.

Lauryn Williams, USATF
Lauryn Williams, courtesy of her Wikipedia page.

If you are woman… just keep reading.

Envision you are an Olympic athlete in an anti-doping program. It is 6:00am, and you are awakened by the doorbell. Startled but then alert, you shuffle toward the door. It is a doping control officer who quickly notifies you that you have been selected for drug testing. The good news is you just woke up and you have not yet been to the bathroom. Consequently, your bladder is full. It’s an inconvenient process, but this particular morning should be quick and easy.

You select a cup from the options the doping officer provides and head to the bathroom with your female chaperone. She has to watch you provide the sample.

Up goes your nighty and down goes your undies. Mother of God, there it is. Your period has started! You look up at the chaperone embarrassed. Giving you a sympathetic look, she still does not look away. She cannot.  After all – it is her job to watch you. You suck it up and pee in the cup. You fumble around to take care of your sanitary needs. Then, head to a different room so your sample can be processed. Sitting quietly at the table, you try not to notice the red streaks in your urine.

Having to be so intimate with a complete stranger at 6:00am is enough to make you wonder, “Is it really all worth it?” Your privacy has been invaded, and you are guilty until your test result proves you innocent, but this part of what it takes to show the world you’re clean. And the truth is, this entire process is worth it to clean athletes if the system does its job of catching those who choose to cheat.

But the FACT is: the system is failing us. The system currently incentivizes cheating by offering monetary rewards with no strings attached; it should want it to incentivize WINNING CLEAN. It should want to make sure that all countries adhere to high same standard we are held to in America. Currently, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) doesn’t have proper governance or resources to do this.

On Friday, McLaren report Part II was published, and the results were, as expected, quite depressing. Mr. McLaren is the lead investigator charged with revealing the details of the Russian doping scandal, a conspiracy that has rocked Olympic sports worldwide.

According to the McLaren report, Russian officials orchestrated the doping and cover-up of more than 1,000 athletes over a 4-year period. Samples were swapped or tampered with to avoid positive tests. The officials and athletes that participated in these vile acts of personal immorality have stolen moments, recognition and money from clean athletes that participated in (at least) the 2012 Olympic games in London, 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, and the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

More surprising to me, the IOC allowed Russian athletes to compete in Rio, knowing full well that Russia had been operating a state-supported doping system – one that was robbing clean athletes around the world.  The common poison between the Russian infrastructure that promoted doping and the IOC’s handling of these doping violations is their shared blatant disregard for clean athletes. This is the broken system that has failed us. This is why WADA needs completely independent governance from major sports organizations such as the IOC.

Those of us who choose to play true need to know we are not alone.  We need to know that the system will not fail us or forget us. We need to know samples will be tested and retested decades later as technology improves, and that protocol will be put in place to try to reimburse us for the moments, recognition and money lost at the hands of cheaters.

It doesn’t take much to realize that the bootleg, after-the-fact ceremonies for the MANY athletes that will soon be awarded their medals retroactively will never replace what could have been. Who wants to receive their Olympic gold medal almost a decade late in a food court, like shot putter Adam Nelson? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars have athletes lost because they chose to compete clean? Or perhaps even more poignantly, with samples being thrown out after 10 years just how many how many other Adam Nelson’s are there out there that we will never know about?

International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Federations (IFs) across the world, we need to you to act on behalf of clean athletes worldwide. The information has been handed over to you. Clean athletes are counting on you to do what is in their best interest. Where should you start? How about this:

– Ensure WADA independent governance from the IOC and IFs so it can carry out its work without conflicts of interest.

– It would be nice if WADA be given the authority and capacity to investigate all instances of World Anti-Doping Code violations and to impose appropriate consequences for non-compliance.

-And last but NOT least we need you to move the upcoming competitions scheduled to be held in Russia.

To the bobsledders, skeleton athletes, biathletes and cross country skiers being asked to step foot on Russian soil to compete in the next few months, my heart goes out to you. What a convoluted message it sends to back you into a corner where you must choose to give up an opportunity to compete on an international stage or compete in a place where state-sponsored crimes against you have been committed. If I was still bobsledding, I certainly would not be joining you for World Championships this year. It is a shame if those in a position of power to move these competitions do not act to do so.

I encourage athletes and athlete advisory councils worldwide to SPEAK UP!!! We can’t count on anyone to speak on our behalf. If we can’t find it within ourselves to muster the courage and make our voices heard now, we may never again be presented with such an opportunity. The time is now…

The Athlete’s Voice is a forum for Track & Field athletes to share their stories on a wide range of topics. Please contact the TFAA to share your experiences today.

About the TFAA
The Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) is a 501(c)(4) organization formed to support the rights and interests of professional track & field athletes. We are the Athlete’s Voice.

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