Sean Gibson

I am fortunate to compete in lacrosse, in which a doping culture does not exist. The last 10 years of in and out-of-competition testing in the sport has resulted in zero adverse findings.

So, why am I writing an article about anti-doping or seeking election to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s newly created Athlete Council?

It’s two-fold:

One, I want all athletes in every sport to have the same fortune and privilege of competing without worry that the levelness of the playing field has been compromised.

Two, I know from experience that sport can exist without pervasive doping, even in these modern times.

Years ago, a friend of mine who was a fellow international athlete in another sport realised that the competition in that sport was tainted by individuals who were under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs. My friend lost their love for the sport and eventually quit as a result.

The benefits of participation in sport are well documented - this person had spent much of their life preparing to compete at the elite level, and once they got there, their passion was stripped by the lack of fairness in the sport.

That story is a tragedy and is unfortunately all too common. And it is something that drives me to help be part of the solution.

Athletes are solely responsible for any prohibited substance found in their system despite whether there was an intention to cheat or not. It is this strict liability that is important for athletes to understand and for which we must take full responsibility.

If an athlete tests positive for a prohibited substance, the resulting sanction can potentially and rightfully end his or her career. Not only may the athlete be banned from competition, but the consequences almost certainly will also include loss of funding and sponsorship, as well as severe reputational damage.

The societal impacts are far reaching in the digital age, and this can create additional challenges as doping cases are often played out in the court of public opinion long before due diligence is carried out.

Lacrosse player Sean Gibson says he is very proud to be in a sport which has a record of zero adverse findings over the course of ten years of in and out of competition testing ©Getty Images
Lacrosse player Sean Gibson says he is very proud to be in a sport which has a record of zero adverse findings over the course of ten years of in and out of competition testing ©Getty Images

While the anti-doping landscape takes time to navigate, athletes must take ownership of it and become fully educated on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, the prohibited list, drug testing process and rule violations sanctions, as well as how to check supplements and medications, the impact of social drugs, and reporting of suspected doping violations.

One of WADA’s strategic priorities is to "be athlete-centred", meaning to "engage and empower athletes to contribute to the development of anti-doping policies, build an easier anti-doping journey for athletes, and increase the contribution that our programmes deliver for athletes and their entourage so that they can build healthy and sustainable careers in sport."

To me, this is so very critical to the ongoing fight for clean sport. Although governance decisions in global sport typically directly affect athletes, we so often have next to no decision-making authority.

Athlete-centric sport governance has proven to be incredibly successful, and it is important that this is echoed within organisations such as WADA, which was established to protect the right of athletes to compete with integrity.

Having attended the athlete sessions at the 2019 WADA Symposium, I was able to contribute to key conversations and see first-hand the importance of the WADA Athlete Council (then Athlete Committee) and its role in anti-doping.

It also highlighted the need for athletes to continually be at the core of what WADA does. There is a strong desire by athletes globally to be more engaged and improve representation within anti-doping as a whole. 

Athletes are the best ambassadors for clean sport, and we uniquely have the ability to help shape and reform a system that can significantly increase the integrity of sport.

If and when sport is clean, it will lead to greater participation. This is and will continue to be an ongoing fight, and we, the athletes, must continually serve as advocates and role models for fairness, integrity and authenticity in sport.

No sporting activity - including lacrosse - is immune to the challenges anti-doping presents and there is always more work to be done. This effort needs to be athlete-led and continually supported by those who facilitate sport and competition.

Through leadership, awareness and stewardship, the fight for clean sport can be won.