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UK Athletics

Removing the grey areas

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26 February 2008


Column by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine



Although these last few weeks have been almost a haze of controversy, it is essential we recognise what has come out of the recent furore surrounding doping issues.


Recent months have been admittedly a testing time for the sport, but amongst the headlines, breaking stories, and media circus, there have been some ground-breaking moments which offer all athletes hope of eventually eradicating this damaging association with drugs.


As a performance athlete I had two main concerns surrounding my sport, issues which repetitively raised their heads over and over again. Firstly I wanted to be convinced, even 100% sure I was competing against other athletes who had put their heart and soul – and only their heart and soul – into their training.


The need to believe you are competing on a level playing field is key to athletes. This does not mean naively pretending it can never happen, but having faith in the testing system, and ultimately your ability to overcome any manufactured advantage that an opponent may try to get.


The second concern was this perception that the association of drugs and our sport was driving people away, making spectators sceptical and tarring some of the worlds hardest working sportsmen and women with the same brush of doubt.


So any form of action that seeks to draw a line in the sand and find a new way forward can only be a good thing. Regardless of the adverse attention it has attracted, for the first time in a long time there is a real hope that the review I am charged with leading will ensure athletics can once and for all sort out the ongoing issues which have unfairly stolen the headlines from our world class athletes who compete with such distinction.


It will not be an easy task, as I have said previously, the surface issues are black and white, but underneath the straightforward decisions there are more shades of grey. Yet it is these shades that have done more to damage the reputation of our sport in recent years than any one individual athlete.


When this review is concluded, the sport of athletics should have a clear way forward, and UK Athletics will know what part it must play in order to make it happen, but most encouraging, we’ll be leading the way in making a real difference.


As a sport that too often allows itself to be swept up and carried off in the tidal wave of controversy doping issues create, it is a massive opportunity to be able to influence the way ahead, and ultimately may prove to be a key moment in athletics.


If we can take this leading role in driving change through, we may well be able to ensure drug offenders cannot walk back into our sport unchallenged and untested, and in closing the door permanently to cheats, may well give any potential cheat second thoughts about the pathway they’re considering.


To use a cliché often fired out by critics – perhaps 2008 will be seen as the moment when athletics finally does get its house in order.