Expert Opinion

Coaches role crucial in fighting doping

In this blog post, Dr Laurie Patterson reflects on the recent news that Jon Drummond has received an eight year ban and explores how education needs to be at the centre of coaches engaging with anti-doping resources.

When I heard the news that Tyson Gay’s coach, Jon Drummond, had received an eight year ban for his involvement in drug use in sport I was not at all surprised. In 2013, Gay had stated that members of his entourage were involved in his positive test for the anabolic substance Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). As a consequence of this circumstance, and Gay’s cooperation in providing information about the involvement of others, such as Drummond, he received a reduced sanction of only one year.

While details of Drummond’s case are limited across the media, the length of the sanction and the description of three different anti-doping rule violations would indicate that the coach’s involvement in doping was extensive. Specifically, Drummond has been found to have possessed, trafficked and administered banned substances. The latter charge is particularly intriguing, as this level of involvement is rarely proven, so I sought further details from the United states Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) website.

The 24-page case file provides witness testimony regarding Drummond’s possession and trafficking of several creams that contained banned substances. While Drummond did not seek to gain financially from possessing and transporting the substances from one country to another, the arbitration panel concluded that his actions were sufficient to meet the criteria for this rule violation. With regard to the administration charge, on examining the details, it became clear that this does not refer to Drummond putting the substance on/in Gay’s body, rather that he aided, abetted, assisted and/or covered up Gay’s use of banned substances, which the panel deemed ‘conduct that makes it easier to dope’.

It is this particular statement that peaked my interest. For almost four years, I have been conducting research to investigate the role of coaches in doping – and, more importantly, anti-doping.  According to USADA’s CEO, Travis Tygart, “Coaches have an inherent responsibility to protect athletes - not take advantage of them - but to ensure that they receive the support, training and advice they need to win fairly and in accordance with the rules”. This sentiment is echoed in Articles 18 and 21.2 of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), as well as the Coaches Code of Conduct of both the United States Olympic Committee and USA Track and Field (USATF) to which Drummond was expected to adhere. Yet, my research has revealed that not all coaches agree that they play an active role in keeping sport clean. Moreover, those who do accept that such responsibility might befall to them often feel unprepared to act – whether due to a perceived lack of knowledge and skills or because they have a desire to protect themselves, their athletes or their sport from being associated with doping.

With this in mind, more must be done to ensure that coaches are equipped and confident when it comes to involving themselves in anti-doping matters. From a UK perspective, the United Kingdom Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) introduced a coach-specific online education programme in 2012, Coach Clean. Since this time, UKAD have been working with various partners to increase the likelihood that this resource reaches coaches. For instance, it has been integrated into the coach education process of a number of National Governing Bodies – a move that is supported by my own research evidence, which states that coaches are unlikely to engage with anti-doping education that is not compulsory.

In this vein, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has also acknowledged the need for anti-doping to become an integrated strand of broader coach education and development processes. Together with my colleagues in the Institute of Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure - Professor Susan Backhouse and Sergio Lara-Bercial - I am currently working on a WADA-funded project to provide guidance for the development of a sustainable, cooperative and international anti-doping programme for high performance coaches. This project is investigating the provision of coach education within high performance sport centres globally, with a view to determining if and/or where anti-doping education might be best introduced.

Within this project, we are continuing to develop the evidence-base from which to determine the most appropriate ways of educating coaches in relation to anti-doping. It is crucial that we better understand the needs and wants of coaches in relation to anti-doping to increase their engagement with education opportunities, as well as their long-term anti-doping behaviours. Such research becomes all the more important when cases such as Drummond’s demonstrate that coaches’ involvement in doping is not a matter that is going to go away – rather, it is something that anti-doping authorities are taking more seriously than ever as the latest iteration of the WADC places increasing emphasis on not only the roles and responsibilities, but also the potential repercussions for athlete support personnel. Therefore, it is imperative that we engage coaches at every sporting level in order to stop them falling foul of the rules. Perhaps more importantly, we need to harness the influential nature of the coach-athlete relationship if we really are serious about pursuing Clean Sport.

You can contact Dr Laurie Patterson via email at or follow her on Twitter @lauriepatts.

For details of the current programme of Clean Sport research at Leeds Beckett University, please contact Prof Susan Backhouse

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