Beckie Scott opened the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Global Athletes Forum with the message that doping, and how it is handled, is the greatest threat to sport today.
Athletes from 54 countries gathered in Calgary on Monday for two days of figuring out how they can exercise more power in the anti-doping movement.
Scott, a Canadian cross-country skier whose 2002 bronze was upgraded to silver and then gold after competitors who finished ahead of her were stripped of their medals, chairs WADA’s athletes’ committee.
“We do need to strengthen the athlete’s voice,” Scott said. “Nobody cares more and nobody has more to lose than athletes when it comes to doping.”
“They haven’t been actively encouraged enough to participate.”
British marathoner Paula Radcliffe, German canoe Olympian Silke Kassner, Zimbabwe swimmer Kirsty Coventry, U.S. biathlete Lowell Bailey, New Zealand skeleton athlete Ben Sandford and Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser are among forum panellists scheduled to speak Tuesday.
The athletes attending own a combined 97 Olympic and Paralympic medals, and 165 world championship medals, according to organizers.
“It’s hit a point where athletes are demanding change because this isn’t going to be something that anyone wants to be part of if it continues on this trend,” Canadian luger Sam Edney said.
“There’s a voice gaining speed, size and power and that’s the voice of the athletes.”
Other than Scott’s opening remarks, media was not allowed into sessions that included a question-and-answer discussion with WADA president Craig Reedie and director general Olivier Niggli on Monday.
The first question put to the floor, however, was what is the greatest barrier athletes around the world face in speaking out against doping?
A session on WADA’s Speak Out program was followed by another with whistleblowers who spoke out at great cost to their lives.
Russian middle-distance runner Yuliya Stepanova and husband Vitaly spoke via video conferencing from the United States, where they now live in an undisclosed location.
Technical difficulties prevented back and forth discussion with those in Calgary.
Stepanova and her husband participated in a series of German documentaries between 2014 and 2016 about Russian doping that set off a cataclysm in Olympic and Paralympic sport.
The International Olympic Committee barred Russia’s track and field team from the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Russian athletes were not allowed to compete under their country’s flag in February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but participated as neutrals.
The International Paralympic Committee barred Russia from the 2016 Paralympic Games altogether. The IPC also put limitations on Russian athletes competing in Pyeongchang.
Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith said the participation of Stepanova and her husband in the forum was “hugely important.”
“That was another gap that was identified,” she said. “These people who want to speak up, how are they protected? Those are things we have to address.”
Another Russian, Grigory Rodchenkov, is in the U.S. witness protection program.
The former director of Russia’s anti-doping lab was the primary source of an explosive New York Times piece in May 2016, and the 2017 Oscar-winning documentary “Icarus,” alleging state-sanctioned doping by the host country at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Canadian IOC member Richard Pound, a former head of WADA, was tasked by the IOC in 2015 to investigate doping on Russia’s track team following the German documentaries.
Another Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren, was later appointed head of an investigation into all Russian sports after the Times piece.
Pound pointed out whistleblowers were key sources in those investigations.
“We wouldn’t have got that evidence without somebody willing to say what they knew from the inside,” Pound said.
But while Edney feels WADA’s appointment of a director of intelligence and investigation offers some protection to whistleblowers, he wants to find out at the forum what the incentive is to call out cheating after several Russian athletes the IOC wanted to keep out of the Pyeongchang Games were allowed to compete.
“It seems like there was a pretty strong case against some athletes and not a lot happened,” Edney said.