The Athlete-Led Anti-Doping Reform Paper for WADA, The Alternative, has been endorsed by the anti-doping leaders of 18 countries, and by the governments, leaders and athletes participating at the Emergency White House Anti-Doping Summit on 31 October. There has been a movement, by reformers, that seems to be inspiring athletes to speak out. The athlete voice is spreading fast, in a way not seen before in the world of anti-doping. However, there has been some criticism against the reformers – the National Anti-Doping Leaders, athletes and government officials who have united in speaking out – criticism that they are “primarily Anglo-Saxon Nations”, that these 18 nations, in the view of the World Anti-Doping Agency leadership, do not represent the rest of the world. Today, there are two voices that are proud to add their support the popular athlete-led anti-doping reform paper for the World Anti-Doping Agency, called The Alternative. We are also proud to explain why other nations may not be as vocal as some of the nations that have spoken for change already.
Dr. Seun Adigun, D.C. of Nigeria, was the captain of the Nigerian Bobsled Team — the first African nation to participate in the event in the 2018 Olympics. “After we qualified for the Olympics, there was this uproar within Nigeria, the Nigerian diaspora, non-Nigerian people. People were really excited that there was a winter effort and something positive happening for Nigeria,” said Adigun. She took this momentum after the Games and has begun building her Nigerian Federation, spreading the love of sport, and doing what she can to help grow sport in Nigeria. She has even recruited the first ever men’s bobsled team for Nigeria! Her focus has been on spreading the love for sport, that anyone can do anything, and that the pursuit of excellence can create dreams you didn’t even know you had.
Another first for the 2018 Games was the first black male African Skeleton Athlete, Akwasi Frimpong. Akwasi wants to be the hope of a billion African children and show them their dreams of being a doctor, a lawyer, or an Olympian are possible. He wants his example of determination and perseverance as an international athlete to give them a voice to pursue their own dreams.
The focus for both of these athletes has been on recruiting, building a federation, and anything beyond that has been them relying and trying to trust the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA. The recent movement in which athletes have been speaking out and asking for reform is new concept for them. “It has created some awareness that I may not have been aware of otherwise, and inspires me to do the same – because things have to and must change at the top of WADA. Speaking out and being different is how I’m spreading the love of sport in Ghana. I want sport to be clean and fair. There needs to be a change to be able to protect sports, to help us all believe in our leadership again. The leadership is something I have to rely on due to the massive challenges we face as small nations. To guide us in regard to clean sport and regulation, we need a more reliable leadership to follow and guide us. As small nations, like mine in Africa we focus on building our sports. As a small nation, there is no excuse not to speak out, but we don’t have the same resources as other nations, or as much free time to focus on things we assume our leadership is handling with integrity. Because we have so many more challenges, it is even more important that our leadership be strong and reliable to guide us. I support The Alternative as the answer to WADA’s governance problems; I have signed the petition, and think that is a diplomatic and fair solution to present to WADA. Let’s hope that, given their huge meetings in Azerbaijan this week, that they listen to my view and the view of thousands of others away from their Board table. Anti-doping is a much bigger issue than one Board table of members.”
Both Seun and Akwasi feel they are not alone in the challenges they face as small nations. When asked if they had spoken to their Athletes Commission, they both confessed that they didn’t even know if their National Olympic Committee (NOC) had one. They explained the focus for their nations and sports was different, and it hadn’t occurred to them that the Athletes’ Commission might be a resource.
It seems the voices of athletes are being heard, and we are simply asking to contribute to what we see as fair. We want to rely on strong leadership, and know they keep the athletes in mind. We want a say in what we see as fair sport, and The Alternativeis a great solution. It is the solution. “Everyone should be held to the same standard of fairness no matter what country they are representing and which sport they play. We all give so much of ourselves every single day and sacrifice our lives to be the best we can be naturally – no one should be able to dilute those efforts or strip them away by cheating. In any country where there is a doping scandal, the system and the culture that was in place for this type of behavior to be acceptable should be broken down and re-educated to prevent innocent-hearted athletes from being punished in the future,” said Seun.
We, the world’s athletes who support The Alternative, want a vastly-improved WADA that champions three essential themes: accountability, transparency and independence.
Now, as you convene around the Board Table in Baku today, is the time to engage and take this once-in-a-generation opportunity for change. Please take the world athletes’ solutions seriously – confidence in WADA is at an all-time low. Small nations like ours greatly rely on your guidance and leadership, and we believe this proposal offers some fair and reasonable solutions.