I’m pleased to be writing these notes after visiting sunny Cape Town where I was invited to speak at an international conference on drug-free sport and, as most of you will know by now, it’s a subject that’s very close to my heart.
In the weeks since the former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson and I completed our round world tour promoting the SKINS’ platform Pure Sport, I’ve received messages of support from all corners of the globe. That, in itself has given us more incentive to continue and the event in Cape Town is just one of a series of post-tour events I’ve been asked to attend and speak at. It tells me that our recent visits to the UK, Canada, USA, Australia, Japan and South Korea for Pure Sport’s first initiative, #ChooseTheRightTrack was absolutely ON the right track.
In recent months, the notion that drug-free sport is a concept embraced by the vast majority of the sport-oriented population has been confirmed beyond all doubt. The problem is, it’s usually the activities of the minority which take the headlines.
When athletes are caught and federations and even nations are challenged because of failing anti-doping practices, there are massive headlines, but when there’s a collection of determined people who are focused on supporting the notion of clean, fair sport it takes a lot more effort to get the journalists engaged! I’ve no complaints about that and having spent the last months in the company of reporters across the world, I understand their motivation because human instinct is that gossip and wrong-doing is much more interesting than doing the right thing. Bad news sells.
That’s why events such as the one in Cape Town are so important. Over the two days, a series of senior sports administrators, experts (and me) debated and promoted what most of us regard as the ‘good things’ in sport. I’m proud to have been invited to sit on the same platform as David Howman, WADA Director General. Equally, I’m delighted to have followed CEO of USADA, Travis Tygart onto the stage to discuss the role sponsors such as SKINS can – and should – play in ensuring proper governance and efficient doping controls. And to go one step further, how great do you think I feel that following ME was Edwin Moses, USADA’s Chairman and multiple Olympic Gold medalist! Edwin is probably best remembered for being unbeaten over almost 10 years (9 years, 9 months and 9 days without a loss)
Actually, forget the fact it’s me, what SKINS is doing to promote this subject is clearly the right thing to do and what’s more, it’s being noticed. A couple of weeks ago I was in Aarhus Denmark delivering a similar speech on sponsors’ responsibilities; the same message I delivered in Cape Town. Sport has a history of accepting sponsors’ money and providing brand exposure in exchange, but I think the message is beginning to hit home that the extra element of corporate responsibility must be weaved into the process. Of course, sport itself has to ensure sponsors are associated with a clean and wholesome product otherwise brands will run away in droves and take their money with them – just like they did when cycling’s problems were being aired and the cycling federation’s ex-President Pat McQuaid was refusing to acknowledge it. (How wonderful it was to have been part of the process that saw him replaced)
I believe sponsors can no longer pay for the exposure a sponsorship package will give them and then calmly sit back and simply wait for the association to benefit their business. Sport these days is such a complex, multi-billion dollar business that anyone who touches it is inextricably linked by a chain of responsibility. Sure, as sponsors we want a ‘bang for our buck’ but there’s no point in operating commercially if you’re not prepared to stand up for every athlete and sports fan who wants to watch or take part in a fair contest. As I see it, what is the point of SKINS selling products to enhance performance and recovery to people who compete at any level, if they believe the top-level sport we’re supporting is rotten to the core? It’s guilt by association and it makes no sense at all.
So yes, I’m proud to have been in Cape Town and was equally delighted to have been in Aarhus before. Further, I’ll be chuffed to bits when I’m joined by Ben Johnson in Dubai later this week to take part in a “Sport versus Crime” conference organised jointly by the Dubai Government and the Dubai Police. This is an event which takes the discussion to a different level by focusing on how cheating in sport can be the first step towards deeper social issues, and equally how clean sport and genuine competition can point people away from crime and towards social integration.
I’m delighted that SKINS is now seen as being a positive voice in the global debate. It confirms how important it is for commercial bodies and sponsors to support the march towards ethical and clean sport rather than pay the money, turn a blind eye, enjoy the exposure and be done with it.