Doping in sport, particularly in tennis, is back in the spotlight once more following Maria Sharapova’s announcement that she had been found guilty of doping at this year’s Australian Open. The implications of this announcement at the highest level (the ATP and WTA Tours) is massive, but we should also be concerned about the impact doping has at grassroots level. As cases of doping continue to surface, not just in tennis, but in football, cycling and other sports as well, it should be acknowledged that prevention is better than cure and that the best way to tackle these issues which tarnish professional sport is to educate aspiring athletes at an early age.
Organisations are recognising that young athletes need to be educated about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs in order to eradicate doping in sports. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) held an International Convention against Doping in Sport in Paris in October 2015 to address these particular issues. UNESCO administers a $1.8 million fund for the elimination of doping in sport and recognises that performance enhancing substances not only cause serious health problems but also undermine fairness and ethics in sport. Richard Budgett, the Medical and Scientific Director at the International Olympic Committee highlighted the importance of anti-doping education at a grass roots level at the Tackling Doping in Sport conference in 2015, stating that “educating youth through sport is crucial to the fight against doping in sport.”
UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) was created in December 2009, following UK Sport’s recommendations to the Government. UKAD’s education programme, ‘100% Me, has identified ways in which they can create a deeper level of engagement with aspiring athletes. Their education and prevention programmes include an anti-doping curriculum, education strategies with National Governing Bodies of Sport and the development of education resources, all designed to ensure that athletes are supported in understanding anti-doping throughout their careers.
UKAD Media and PR Officer, Lottie Walker, said that UKAD does not specify certain sports at grassroots level, but focuses on general education of the consequences of doping. “Get Set for the Spirit of Sport is an anti-doping education programme aimed at young children from the ages of 10-14 years old. This helps to develop a core set of sporting values, enabling them to make the right decisions on and off the field of play. The free downloadable resources allow teachers the ability to teach these sessions.
“We also have a school, college and university accreditation programme which gives educational institutions the chance to show their commitment to clean sport. By becoming an accredited institution, it allows schools, colleges and universities to inform their students of the importance of clean sport.”
In the UK, participation in tennis is decreasing, down 7.6% (-34,800) over the last 10 years (source: Sport England). By contrast, in the United States, the latest research carried out by the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) in July 2015 has seen an overall growth in participation by 1% to 17.9 million. Although the percentage of core tennis players who play more than 10 times a year has decreased across the pond, the number of 6-12 year olds playing has increased by 4% and number of 13-17 year olds has grown by 9% to 2.23 million.
There is no doubt that recently tennis has come under severe scrutiny not just following Sharapova’s announcement about doping, but also following match-fixing allegations and investigations, which have led to the suspension of players and umpires. Young aspiring tennis players do not feel completely disheartened by recent question marks over the sports integrity. Thomas Cluck, 13, “I believe that despite the few occasions of players taking banned substances and match fixing allegations, tennis is still an extremely clean sport, especially compared to others.” Max Gao, 14, “it would be naïve to think tennis is a completely clean sport, given the recent news about Sharapova testing positive for doping, however I would say it is about 99% clean. A few little blemishes should not affect the whole picture.”
Young players have not been put off by certain individuals actions but do believe that they should be further educated with regards to the dangers of doping. Brooks Giardina, 14, “there should definitely be more education on the doping matter. If young players see players performing well with the substance, and then that player does not get a harsh punishment, then the young generation will think it is okay.” Noel Alberto, Editor of the tennis section for VAVEL USA, also believes that there should be more education for young athletes, “kids should know what is banned, why it’s banned and the consequences. Every sport has a handful of people who are caught cheating. Baseball, basketball, etc. but I feel that tennis has the fewest number of cheats, but nonetheless these issues need addressing.”
While Max agrees that there should be more education on doping, it is not something which should be dwelled on so much as many just play recreationally to enjoy the sport and too much emphasis on education would take away from the enjoyment of the game. “As brilliant as kids might be, doping is definitely a more mature topic that requires a lot of analytical and critical thinking. Not many young players actually get to compete at an international level where ranking points, prize money and pride is on the line, so they won’t exactly experience these situations first-hand. With that being said, I do think it should be brought up from time-to-time as more of a discussion topic as it is a sensitive topic that does not get discussed about enough.”
It is clear that actions are being taken to further educate young athletes on the dangers of doping, but far more needs to be done. Even after just asking the thoughts of a few young tennis players, it is apparent that they do not feel enough education has been given to them. Tennis’ reputation following questions over the sports integrity has not taken a hit as a consequence and let us hope that this remains to be the case as further investigations into the sport continue.