How athlete support personnel support clean sport

Championing clean sport

Athlete support personnel (ASP) are one of the most important and influential people in an athlete’s life. You’re a trusted confidant, a role model, and a vital resource - and you play a crucial part in creating a culture of clean sport. 

But what, in practice, can this look like? What are the challenges and how can you help athletes overcome them? This article explores simple ways to help protect athletes from career-ending mistakes.

Set expectations and identify risk

The influence you have on athletes is profound. You can use this influence to build a culture that values integrity, respect and honesty, and encourages athletes to achieve their potential through hard work and dedication rather than shortcuts. 

A zero-tolerance approach to cheating is a fundamental part of this. It means setting the expectation for high standards of behaviour that apply at all times and discouraging a win-at-all-costs approach. Instead, focus on intrinsic motivators like growth, enjoyment or personal legacy.

It’s also important to identify those times when athletes are more vulnerable to doping and offering support. For example, if an athlete’s struggling with ongoing injury, can you work with them to adjust or prioritise their training load or support healthy pain management using permitted substances? If they’re struggling with recovery, can you check in on their health, sleeping patterns, nutrition, or whether they’re overtraining? If they’re trying to make fast physical changes like weight gain or loss, can you encourage them to take appropriate advice, set realistic goals and emphasize the importance of doing things “the right way”? 

Discover your role

Get educated

Education is the single most effective method of protecting clean sport: for athletes certainly, but also for athlete support personnel. It leaves you more aware of your anti-doping responsibilities, of the risks and challenges for athletes, helpful ways to offer support and how it all works together to create a clean sport culture that supports athlete success. 

Our ASP e-learning is the easiest way to get familiar with how you can support clean sport in your role. And once you’re educated, spread the word. Whether it’s by organising an in-person clean sport workshop for athletes or ASP, or by sharing links to informative anti-doping resources, any action you take contributes to protecting athletes and the integrity of their competition. 

Explore e-learning

Encourage informed supplement decisions

Even though they’re commonplace in sport, supplements are a risk for all athletes. Contamination and inaccurate labelling make an accidental positive test ever-more likely, as Australian marathon runner Cassie Fein found out. 

She did what she could to be safe: bought her supplement from a physical shop rather than online, chose an all-natural product, and checked the listed ingredients against the Prohibited List. But despite her care and best efforts, the supplement was contaminated – Cassie tested positive at the height of her career. A nine-month sanction and the emotional toll of the experience forever ended her drive to compete at an elite level, and she now challenges athletes who are considering supplementation to be aware of the risks. 

Athletes can and do test positive after taking contaminated supplements. With so much at stake, it’s important to ensure athletes understand the risks and the steps they can take to reduce them. Encouraging a food-first approach to nutrition goes a long way to protecting athletes from the risk of contamination, but if they’re committed to supplement use, then help them make informed decisions by encouraging them to read our Supplement Decision-Making Guide.

Navigate supplements

As part of a support team, you can help athletes be diligent in their approach to banned substances and medications. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List details all banned substances and methods, and it’s updated every year. Keeping athletes up-to-date with any changes helps them avoid mistakes. Tramadol, for example, will be added to the List and banned in-competition from 1 January 2024. From that date, any athlete with tramadol in their system during competition, without an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption, will be breaking anti-doping rules and putting themselves at risk of a sanction. 

As a failsafe, we strongly recommend that athletes check every medication on Global DRO before they use it. You can encourage this behaviour, emphasizing personal responsibility and care for due process. You can even order and share some of our handy Wallet Guides from our Resources page. 

Sign up to our newsletter or follow us on social media to stay on top of important anti-doping updates that your athletes need to know. 

Check medications

* If something is banned “in-competition,” it’s banned from 11.59pm the night before competition right through to the end of the competition and its doping control processes.

Speak Out

As athlete support personnel, you have a responsibility to protect clean sport by speaking out when doping concerns arise. It’s tough, whether you’re speaking out yourself or encouraging an athlete to make a report, but it showcases fundamental clean sport values and is a way of taking back control from those who would cheat. 

By speaking out after being encouraged to dope, British cyclist Toby Atkins exposed an entire Italian doping ring, improving the integrity of his sport along the way. “It’s terrifying,” Atkins admits, but he was adamant that he didn’t want someone to mess with his career “and get away with it.”   

Sharing doping concerns in confidence strengthens the integrity of sport for all athletes who train hard and fair. Even if you believe the information you have is insignificant or incomplete: if it’s on your mind then we’d like to know.