Unmasking Gold

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The Summer Olympics of 2016 saw team GB continue their quest for Gold; being the most fruitful of the modern games.

We arrived home with 67 medals, topping London 2012 by two. GB are fast establishing themselves as fierce competitors on the global stage across all sports; but just how far are UK Sport willing to go for medals and who pays the price?

Recent uproar within Cycling has lead to an independent review of British Cycling, calling their philosophy and attitudes towards training into question. Scare mongering and bullying are supposedly amongst the tactics adopted by British Cycling in order to meet medal demands set by UK Sport. Team Sky are also currently the subject of a UK Anti-Doping investigation as legitimacy of the contents of a mystery package delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins in June 2011 is questioned.

Suspicious use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) by Bradley Wiggins under the guidance of the general manager at team Sky, David Brailsford, is a case alike many within British Athletics.

Alberto Salazar, head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, has received numerous allegations for the alleged use of prohibited performance enhancing drugs on his athletes. On many occasions it has been an unnecessary TUE grant, which has allowed Alberto to fuel his athletes with testosterone boosting, anti-inflammatory and weight loss drugs. One of the shocking exploits revealed in a BBC Panorama, ‘Catch me if you can’, disclosed evidence that Galen Rupp had taken Testosterone and Prednisone medication at aged 16 under the coaching of Alberto Salazar.

Numerous examples suggest that pressure to maximize performance forces athletes and coaches to resort to unhealthy and unethical methods in order to achieve accordingly to expectations.

But to what extent is British Athletics guilty of cutting corners to meet the increasing demand for top quality performers? Are performance-enhancing drugs exclusive amongst only elite athletes? Is pressure to perform an issue within amateur and youth levels of British Athletics?

Liz Nicholl, Chief Executive of UK Sport, is responsible for the distribution of 345 million pounds over the four-year Olympic cycle. In the BBC’s ‘State of Sport’ debate aired on the 24th of March she stated, “We do not reward success; we invest in potential.”

A recent survey conducted by YouGov revealed only 7% of 2,000 respondents questioned, said that they had been inspired to take up sport by the Olympics. Liz Nicholl fails to acknowledge these statistics and says UK Sport has conducted their own research, which found activity in the UK increased over the period of the 2012 Olympics.

The result of an increase of National participation levels in sport being linked to performance levels in athletics means increase in athletic performance would benefit the UK Economy. Increases in activity in the UK results in less pressure on the NHS and would therefore help the UK economy. However, demand for high-level performance amongst elite athletes could create a pressurised atmosphere within British Athletics.

11-time Paralympic Champion, Tanni Grey-Thompson, has spent a year looking into the ‘Duty of Care’ review of UK Sport. She states that, “it’s about getting the best talent all the way through and not leaving athletes broken at the end of it.”

BBC’s recent study into the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) at amateur and youth levels revealed 44% of young athletes believe their success in sport is due to PEDs. 57% of amateur athletes said that PEDs were ‘easily available’ and 47% said they personally knew someone using drugs to enhance their athletic performance.

UK Anti-Doping Agency has an annual budget of £7 million, however a single drugs test costs 350 pounds. Reasonably, they have stated drug testing amongst elite athletes is prioritised and they lack necessary resources to control and monitor doping at amateur and youth levels.

Therefore responsibility falls to the coaching set-up to ensure an appropriate atmosphere is created, which allows amateur and elite performers to reach their full potential without breaking the athlete. Action must be taken to ensure pressure for high-level performance does not continue to corrupt our sport and destroy our athletes.