“WADA is increasingly of the belief that athletes do not dope alone, and that often there is a member of their entourage encouraging them to cheat”

Sir Craig Reedie, President, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

For years, the relationship between Lance Armstrong and Michele Ferrari was the subject of scrutiny and rumours. For years, Armstrong defended the controversial Italian. Following the USADA investigation into Armstrong’s doping, and his subsequent admissions, Dr Ferrari found himself subject to a worldwide ban, and a lifetime place on WADA’s Prohibited Association List. The rumours were proven accurate.

The rationale behind the World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) is to fight doping by promoting the spirit of the sport. It reaches beyond Athletes and is applicable to their coaches, trainers and doctors. These individuals are described in the code as Athlete Support Personnel.

An example of a modern day Athlete-Coach relationship that has attracted speculation is that of long distance star Mo Farah, and his coach Alberto Salazar.

Salazar is currently under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Whilst he protests his innocence, question marks still remain about the legitimacy of his training methods.

Farah recently moved back to the UK and left Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project behind in the pursuit of marathon training. Having retired from Track and Field in 2017 at the World Championships, Farah has now teamed up with Gary Lough, Paula Radcliffe’s husband, who is also a specialist marathon coach.

Farah won six world titles and four Olympic Gold medals under the guidance of Salazar. He has recently been knighted. He has always been a vocal critic of doping and thinks those who have done so should be punished. While he denies the move has anything to do with the ongoing USADA investigations into Salazar, it will be hard to avoid a certain degree of speculation.

Ever since the rumours circulated about Salazar and the Oregon project, Farah has had to face probing questions about the relationship and has had to publicly defend himself. A reputation as a successful clean athlete is extremely valuable and can be monetised via sponsorship deals.

Just look at how many sponsors abandon Athletes when doping charges surface. Maria Sharapova is a prime example.

How do Athletes protect themselves from associating with an Athlete Support Person who becomes subject to a doping investigation? What all Athletes must understand, is that they do not have to be caught doping themselves for a ban to be upheld.

Article 2.10 from the Code defines the violation as:

“Association by an Athlete or other Person subject to the authority of an Anti-Doping Organisation in a professional or sport-related capacity with any Athlete Support Person who:

2.10.1 If subject to the authority of an Anti-Doping Organization, is serving a period of Ineligibility; or

2.10.2 Has been convicted or found in a criminal, disciplinary or professional proceeding to have engaged in conduct which would have constituted a violation of Anti-Doping Rules…or;

2.10.3 Is serving as a front or intermediary form an individual described in 2.10.1 or 2.10.2”

WADA provides a Prohibited Association List of all Athlete Support Personnel. This list details their name, nationality and end date of their disqualification. Many, including Michele Ferrari, are banned for life.

This is the first thing an Athlete should check before embarking on a professional relationship with a coach. Whilst not all of the individuals on the list are subject to lifetime bans, any Athlete would be advised to exercise upmost caution if choosing to work with an individual who has previously appeared on it.

The Athlete should conduct background research – even if the coach or trainer you want to work with isn’t present on the Prohibited Association List, are they a risk? Ask probing questions about their background and associates, and any criminal convictions or disciplinary sanctions they may have.

If you find that your new coach, doctor or trainer is asking you to take new supplements, or use new training methods, always query this - make sure you know exactly what you are ingesting, and the methods you are using. If you begin to feel uncomfortable with the relationship, remember that this is your career and you are the one who has the most to lose. Distance yourself from the relationship.

While Salazar is not on the Prohibited Association List, it is a sensible move for Farah to distance himself from the American, as he begins a new chapter in his career.

For all those other Athletes, below is a link to the current WADA Prohibited Association List. Keep yourself informed.

https://www.wada-ama.org/en/resources/the-code/prohibited-association-list