Whistleblower offers low-down on doping in sport

November 5, 2016

Whistleblower offers low-down on doping in sport

Cyclist Toby Atkins exposed a doping ring in an Italian under-23 team in 2015. Photo: Supplied

A British cyclist is using his first-hand experience of drugs in sport to educate young athletes.

Toby Atkins was offered performance-enhancing drugs by his manager after being selected for an under-23 Italian cycling team in 2015.

Mr Atkins, 22, who lives in New Zealand, attended the Junior World Track Cycling Championship in Switzerland in July, where he spoke to young athletes about his experience.

“There is a perception that if you dob someone in, especially the Italians, your career is over. But it’s not.”

As an athlete, Mr Atkins said he was aware of the extent of doping in sport, but never thought it would happen to him.

“My first emotion was terror, I had no idea what to do. I just wanted to get out of there.”

Mr Atkins immediately contacted British Cycling who reported the incident to the world governing body for sports cycling, Union Cycliste Internationale.

UCI undertook an investigation of the Italian team, including house raids where various drugs and needles were found. The manager and riders involved were subsequently banned from cycling.

Mr Atkins said he had “massive amounts of anger” and was planning to quit cycling altogether.

“If I was still able to race with that team and continue with that form then I would have been able to follow my dream and make a living,” he said.

“But in the space of 30 seconds this guy effectively ruined it all.”

Mr Atkins is now back on the track, pursuing his dream of becoming a professional cyclist, while educating young sportspeople to make the right decisions when it comes to drugs in sport.

Chief executive of Drug Free Sport New Zealand, Graeme Steel, said the organisation is starting to target pre-elite athletes and schools.

“We want to get to the junior group so that before they even get into that situation they are given information that enables them to make good decisions.”

Mr Steel said the majority of cases they have had to deal with in New Zealand have involved young and “naïve” athletes.

“Education is key because at the end of the day the buck stops with the athletes, so it’s our job to make sure they know their responsibility from a young age.”

New Zealand junior athletics team member Brooke Somerfield, who hopes to train in Europe when she completes her schooling at Tauranga Girls’ College, said she was aware of the pressures of training in highly competitive and intense environments overseas.

“It’s a risk any athlete takes going into an unknown environment.

“It’s important for those who are educated and have the right morals to stand up to the dopers and not fall to their pressures,” she said.

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