Hannah England: The doping revelations have been awful but as athletes we can help turn things around

INSIDE TRACK: 'It’s almost been like every time you go on to the internet there’s some new sordid revelation about doping and corruption in athletics.'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has been three months since the first World Anti-Doping Agency independent commission report and it’s almost been like every time you go on to the internet there’s some new sordid revelation about doping and corruption in athletics.

But this is not the athletics I know.

I recently returned from a training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and, as a group, we all got colds so we headed out to the pharmacy to get a cold remedy.

Such is everyone’s paranoia about ensuring there are no slip-ups, there we were all hunched over looking at the ingredients and checking on the internet to make sure there was not the remotest chance of it containing a banned substance.

In the end, it turned out to be an American form of paracetamol but that’s how being an athlete in 2016 is to me and it’s in stark contrast to the revelations we’ve heard coming out of Russia and elsewhere in recent months.

These past months have been a bit confusing. I’d always been of the view that the widespread doping you read about from the 1980s and 1990s had long gone – I felt grateful to be part of a newer, cleaner era.

That’s not burying my head in the sand. I have faith in myself, my training group, the wider collective of British athletes and I know that we’re doing it clean, and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of other countries as well.

When you hear about everything that went on at the IAAF, again I feel like this isn’t my athletics. It’s so alien to me as I’ve put and continue to put my passion and life into this.


IAAF president Lord Coe's position has been called into question

When I read about it, it’s like I’m reading about some politics story or something else that’s not connected to me. The fact I’ve never met the figures like Lamine Diack and Gabriel Dollé, involved in the IAAF investigations, in some ways makes it easier to think of this as detached from the sport I love.

I know Sebastian Coe’s been in the headlines a lot too and I’ve put my faith in him to lead the IAAF, but it does feel that every couple of weeks that faith is tested.

Am I being biased by thinking he’s a British hero so we can believe him? My hope is that he’s got a good long game planned, he knows what he’s doing and athletics will eventually be better because of him. But it’s so hard to be objective about him or about any of this, in fact.

What is clear is that there was not enough transparency before, the power was in the hands of too few and this level of corruption was able to happen.

The IAAF needs greater checks and needs people like Dick Pound, of Wada, and other independent figures sniffing around it to ensure a cleaner sport going forward.

I genuinely believe the sport is now better for all this. The stories have been awful and painful to digest, but surely that’s better.

When I think back to five years ago, I had such rose-tinted spectacles about the whole thing. Now this has brought things sharply into focus. The sport has moved on and still needs to move on more. 

I find it frustrating when people compare the athletics scandal to that of cycling. In cycling, one of the excuses used was that almost everyone else was doing it, but in the athletics of today that’s certainly not the case.

Like other athletes you heard the whispers of what was going on, but what could you do? It’s hard to point the finger publicly if you don’t have any clear proof. Could I have done more? I don’t know but it’s not the job of an athlete to keep the sport clean, it’s the job of the authorities.

Amid everything, you have moments that restore your faith in athletics. I was training a group of 12-year-olds on my return from the States and not once were drugs or corruption mentioned. I found that quite reassuring. Perhaps if the group had been just a few years older their viewpoint and questioning would have been a lot different.

And in the midst of all this it’s never come to a point where I’ve thought about quitting, of walking away from the sport.

It’s not got to the point where I’ve shed tears or get angry, it’s more a case of utter disbelief at what has gone on. 

I still have goals, there are quicker times I want to achieve and this is still a sport I love. I still think, despite everything that’s happened, it’s an awesome sport and, hopefully, we as athletes can play a small part in turning that around. I just hope that I’m still involved to reap the rewards of a cleaner sport.