Profiles 6 May 2016

Sport must do more to protect athletes from abuse and cheats

Sport needs to do more to protect athletes from abuse, corruption and cheats, heard delegates at Sport Resolutions 2016; Integrity and Good Governance, which took place in London today. Delegates heard how athletes currently lack a voice in a sports governance system that lacks oversight, allowing the sort of integrity issues that have recently plagued football and athletics to occur. Speakers continually raised a lack of athlete trust in the governance of sport as an issue.

“Athletes don’t have confidence in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)”, said Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe. “With the work I do on the [IAAF] Athletes Commission, more and more athletes are coming – apparently to other athlete commissions across different sports – and they just don’t have full faith that all the issues are being understood when they’re discussed at CAS”.

Radcliffe suggested that a fully independent tribunal for sport is now necessary. “That would be a huge step forward”, she said.


Former gymnast Gloria Viseras and former swimmer Katherine Starr shared their harrowing experiences of abuse at the hands of their former coaches. Viseras said that she had suffered 12 years of bulimia and suicide attempts due to keeping silent for 30 years about abuse by Jesús Carballo, her former coach. Despite the Spanish Sports Council recognising that the abuse had taken place, his son remains as President of the Spanish gymnastics federation (RFEG). ChsGh-AWsAA7uwI.jpg-largeViseras said that she “hadn’t received a single phone call” from the RFEG following her revelations.

“Children and young people in sport were not listened to for a long time”, said Starr, who changed her name to escape the abuse suffered at the hands of her coach, Paul Hickson and now runs Safe4Athletes. “Most people in sport can’t speak out for fear of losing their place. The only checkmark against coaches is how good their athletes are.” When asked if there are coaches in sport doing what Jimmy Saville did to his victims, Anne Tiivas of the Child Protection in Sport Unit replied: “Undoubtably, there are”.


Radcliffe alleged that there had been collusion between ARD, the Sunday Times and the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee to ‘out’ her as an athletes alleged to have suspicious blood values. She alleged that ARD had issued a statement ahead of the CMS Select Committee hearing on 8 September last year stating that an athlete would be named.

She said that the Sunday Times conclusion that her blood values were suspicious was due to “inexperienced journalists trying to cut corners”, and alleged that the Sunday Times had attempted “entrapment” with regards to her and other athletes by threatening to write articles detailing how they had refused to publish their blood data. She also argued that press regulations needed to be tightened, as her reputation has been damaged when she had “done nothing wrong”.

Sport is in denial

“Sport remains in a state of catatonic and unpersuasive denial”, said Dick Pound, the first President of the World Anti-Chsi3D9WMAIVsWB.jpg-largeDoping Agency (WADA) and Chairman of its Independent Commission which produced two reports into allegations of systemic doping in Russia. “Too many people involved in sport do not want the anti-doping system to work”.

Pound said that WADA needs additional investigatory powers and again called for an extension to its mandate through regulations that would allow WADA to compel those being investigated to contribute towards the cost of that investigation, with additional powers to sanction those that refuse to contribute. Pound also revealed that the Independent Commission had “not finished” its investigation into the IAAF blood database used by ARD and the Sunday Times in its investigation into blood doping in athletics.

Functional separation

Many speakers outlined that in order for sport to avoid further integrity issues, separation of governance and commercial functions is essential. “Normal corporate governance procedures don’t apply at international federation level”, said Nic Coward, former General Secretary of the Premier League and CEO of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). “What is one trying to govern?” questioned Jonathan Bellamy of Essex Chambers. “Is it a sports body or a business?” Coward continued: “There should be a separation of roles. This has to happen at the international level.”

However, it was pointed out that sporting confederations – such as FIFA – don’t do much other than handle commercial issues, and it was therefore questioned as to why they had taken on a political role. “There is nobody overseeing them at an international level”, said Jane Purdon, Head of Governance & Leadership at UK Sport. Former UK Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, said that bodies such as FIFA were often guilty of hiding behind the autonomy of sport in order to do what they like.

This concept was thrown into sharp relief by Alexandra Wrage of Trace International, who served on FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC). “I am the only man on earth who can arrive in a country without protocol and be received by the Head of State”, she revealed former FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter had told her.

Wrage’s concern is that despite numerous football officials being arrested and charged with corruption, little has changed at FIFA. She pointed out that shortly before he was elected as FIFA’s new President, Gianni Infantino had “hosed down the audience with cash”, by promising each national association US$5 million for football development – $4 million more than they had ever been promised in the past. She said that football’s real stakeholders – players, fans and clubs – “have no voice”.

It was also pointed out that the IAAF have a very difficult decision to make regarding Russian athletics’ participation at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Last week, the Sports Integrity Initiative revealed how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had spoken to the IAAF about the situation at April’s SportAccord convention.

Ed Warner, Chairman of UK Athletics, said it would be unfair to simply sanction Russian track & field athletes. “You can’t just suspend Russian athletics”, he said. “You need to suspend every sport tested by RUSADA [the Russian Anti-Doping Agency] during the period in question”.

Radcliffe agreed and also pointed out that a ban could have overall adverse effects. “If we ban Russian athletics from Rio, then we are giving them an Olympic cycle to come back prepared”, she said. “Do they even know how to train for the Olympics without drugs?” She also pointed out that similar issues exist in other countries, yet they do not face the same exclusion from the Games.


It appears that sport still has a long way to go towards true reform, as it is still stuck with the organisational structures that allowed integrity issues to develop in the first place. “You have a 20th century business operating in a 19th century organisation”, said Pound. It was suggested that internal change is hard for sport to implement – one analogy used was that it is similar to getting turkeys to vote for Christmas.

However, these changes need to be made if sport is to repair its relationship with athletes. A change in how we treat those who have cheated in sport is also needed. “We don’t celebrate the honest athletes”, argued multiple 400m champion Jamie Baulch. “We celebrate the cheats”. This may be a public perception that is harder to shift than any structural changes required in sport.

• The Sports Integrity Initiative spoke to Paula Radcliffe, Dick Pound, Alexandra Wrage and Katherine Starr at Sport Resolutions 2016. Articles will follow shortly…

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