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Whistleblowers reluctant to betray friends, says report

A research fellow at Leeds-Beckett University in Yorkshire, England, said her research highlighted how student athletes do want a clean sport but are reluctant to inform on friends or rivals

By: AFP | London |
May 1, 2017 11:41:06 am
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Whistleblowers are seen as crucial in the fight against doping by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Craig Reedie but a research paper suggests that athletes have no desire to inform on friends. Kelsey Erickson, research fellow at Leeds-Beckett University in Yorkshire, England, told AFP her research highlighted how student athletes she interviewed do want a clean sport but are reluctant to inform on friends or rivals they know are taking performance enhancing products.

Reedie announced last month the whistleblower programme had started — without going into any great detail — whilst WADA director-general Olivier Niggli said earlier this year he preferred if those wishing to inform on athletes doping went to them. Erickson based her findings on interviews with track and field student athletes in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“The research has highlighted situations of whistleblowing presents a true moral dilemma,” said Erickson, whose paper on whistleblowing in the context of doping is only the second to be published. “A majority of them said they would adamantly refuse to personally take drugs and had a very negative view of performance enhancing product use.

“However, when I asked them whether they would report an athlete or competitor for doping less than half of them suggested they would and even fewer said they would contact a doping hotline,” added the American.

‘They do take risks’

Erickson, whose expertise lies in the psychology of drugs in sport, said the athletes preferred to take it to a figure of authority like a coach or, most commonly, they suggested that they would be inclined to confront the performance enhancing drug user directly. “On one hand they want to protect the rights of athletes at large to compete in doping free sport but, on the other hand, they are concerned for the dopers and their reputation, their well being and future.

“That causes them to wrestle with whether they want to report the problem. They want something to be done and addressed but they do not necessarily want to be the one to report it.” The lack of protection offered to the Stepanovs who blew the lid on the ‘institutionalised doping’ in Russia was heavily criticised as they fled Russia to live in the United States, and has stressed the importance of having established policies and procedures in place for protecting whistleblowers.

“We have certainly seen the value of whistleblowers coming forward,” said Erickson. “They are the the ones that have been the catalysts for the biggest cases of recent times and have been great value. It is incumbent on us that we must do our utmost to make sure they have the protection they require. “They do take risks, some more than others. We must do our best to facilitate and protect and honour them given the risk they take.” Erickson suggests that based on her research, there may be additional avenues for addressing performance enhancing drug use.

“Maybe hotlines aren’t the only way to do that,” she said. So we can perhaps learn from other industries (who have had whistleblowers) and from athletes and how they would prefer to share this information.”

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