Why Clean Sport

By Steve Magness

I was 18 years old, living out a scene that I could only have dreamed of a few months earlier. The day after running the Pre classic I was going on a run with some of the best athletes in the world; Olympians, NCAA champions, record holders. Men I had only seen on TV, read about in Runner’s World. They were heroes to a young running-obsessed high school kid.

I’d heard of doping before. I was well aware of the rumors and allegations surrounding professional baseball and as a track-nut knew about the bygone era of East German doping and the Ben Johnson fiasco. But this was the first time I’d come face to face with allegations and it was unsettling. Here were a few of top the runners in the world and they were throwing around knowledgeable statements on the hidden underbelly of the sport. A sport which I assumed was relatively pure.

Move ahead another year or two and I’m in graduate school training with the fastest American miler ever. We had a special guest lecturer, Verner Møller for one of my graduate school courses. Dr. Møller had found himself smack in the middle of the Tour de France doping controversy, having written the book The Doping Devil, which detailed the history of drug use in sport. He was a rational but jaded individual who was fond of telling us that no one could make it to the very top without drugs. I would spend class time arguing with Dr. Møller, using my training partner Alan Webb, as an example. He would listen, but then politely scoff back, probably thinking “This poor naïve kid” in his head.

What doping does is it destroys dreams. It kills what makes sport so unique; the idea that hard-work matters. That we all have a set limit and with enough training we can explore where those limits lie.

As we age, we lose youths innocence. We become jaded. Scoffing at the naïve youth with their foolish dreams as Dr. Møller did with me. We start making comments like “everyone is suspect” or “They are all doping, so what’s the point.”

Whenever I feel my jadedness towards sport creeping up, I’m reminded of the innocence of the high school runners I used to coach or look at the wide eyed freshman who step foot on our college campus. They have dreams and goals; aspirations of glory shepherded by hard work and dedication. They truly believe that if they work hard, with a bit of luck and talent, they too might reach the level of the runners they read about.

What isn’t dancing in their heads is the thought that one day, to reach that level, I’m going to have to make a choice to take drugs or not. We’re all faced with difficult choices in life. We all come to a point where we come face to face the upper reaches of our talent. We can see our limitations on the horizon as we gradually approach them.

It used to be that you kept banging your head against the wall, maybe changed something in training or doubled down on your commitment. But now, whenever we come close to that limit, drugs, or grey-area substances, become the easy solution. It’s a sad time to be an athlete.

When I consider the choices that athletes are forced to make, I often ponder what makes someone choose to go over to the “dark side.” It’s not that everyone who makes a wrong choice is “evil.” Instead, it’s the people they surround themselves with and where they derive their motivation from that all often decides the direction that athlete goes. We all start out innocent, attempting to improve with hard work, but these internal and external forces are often the determining factor in whether we cross the line.

If they are surrounded by Ego-driven individuals who are obsessed with succeeding regardless of the cost; or coaches who see athletes as pawns and not people; or doctors who cross lines for financial reasons, then it’s no wonder an athlete falls into the drug culture. If they have been taught that winning is all that matters or that they are defined by what they do in the sport, then going down the wrong path is more likely.

The lessons we teach for why we compete in the sport matter. The morals and ethics that coaches, trainers, peers, doctors, agents, and even sports marketing executives, display often determine whether an athlete chooses the shady side of the sport or stays on the right side of the line. It’s for this reason that the Clean Sport Movement is needed. We need to change the norm, change what is acceptable from all of these groups. We need to set a new standard.

Overall, when I consider the drug issue in sport, I go back to why I coach, why I am involved in a sport with little financial reward and a myriad of problems?

It’s about developing people, not athletes, not runners, people.  Drugs, and the shortcut they provide, do not do that.

Steve Magness has served as a professional coach for the last decade, having coached numerous athletes to top 15 at the World Championships and Olympic Games. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Peak Performance, and his first book, The Science of Running, was published in 2014. He currently coaches at the University of Houston. In addition, he is author of the popular blog, The Science of Running, and The Peak Performance Newsletter. He serves as an adjunct professor of Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary's University. In his own running, Magness ran a 4:01 mile in High School. He can be found on twitter @stevemagness

Why is Clean Sport Important?

By Mario Fraioli

Citius. Altius. Fortius. Faster. Higher. Stronger. This has been the motto of the Olympic Games since 1924. These words, according to Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, “represent a programme of moral beauty. The aesthetics of sport are intangible."

Personally, this is what I’ve always loved about sport, whether it’s a running race, a basketball game or some other type of contest. There’s a purity to competition—the first runner across the line wins the race, the team with the highest score at the end of the game takes the title—that is easy to understand and appreciate, regardless of your own ability, background or interests. Beauty lies at the intersection of skill and strategy, and that’s a huge part of what makes sport so special to watch.

Unfortunately, this moral beauty, this purity of competition—from the Olympic level all the way down to the true amateur ranks—has been compromised for quite some time now. It’s no secret that cheating, specifically doping, is rampant across nearly every sport, at all levels, costing clean athletes medals or money (and sometimes both), casting all athletes–even the ones who are playing by the rules–in a negative light, while simultaneously losing the faith of other athletes, coaches, fans, sponsors and media alike because no one has any idea who to trust or what to believe anymore. 

This is why the Clean Sport movement is so important. A culture of transparency needs to replace one that has been poisoned by secrecy. Trust and belief need to be restored. Cheaters needs to be abashed, not encouraged. By creating awareness around the issues at hand and uniting in support of the ideals that Pierre de Coubertin outlined almost a century ago, change can happen. It needs to happen, otherwise sport risks entering a future where its aesthetics will become tarnished beyond recognition. As athletes, coaches, fans, sponsors and journalists, we have a responsibility to speak up and take action in order to restore and uphold the values of hard work, fair play and integrity that sport is grounded in, and will ultimately survive on.

Mario Fraioli has coached runners to personal bests, Boston Marathon qualifying times, national championship wins, Olympic Trials appearances, international podiums, world championship teams, national records, and even the Olympic Games. He is the creator of the morning shakeout email newsletter, author of The Official Rock ‘n’ Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training and former senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, Mario has raced competitively from the mile to ultramarathon distances. He is an ardent supporter of the Clean Sport movement. 

Thank You!

First and foremost, we want to thank everyone for the incredible launch of the Clean Sport Collective three weeks ago! We are so humbled and thankful for everyone’s participation from the very beginning. The number of people, brands and events who took the pledge blew us away. It exceeded all of our dreams of what the launch could be, and it was because of all of YOU! The creativity of posts, the stories of how clean sport was now communicated with your children, and the meaning behind why you all compete clean was so humbling to see.

We believe in unity, positive change and the power of the collective to make a difference. Social movements come from the people, and together we are making it a movement. What used to be a taboo topic is now widely talked about from professional athletes to fans in a place where all of our voices make a difference equally together. We are also changing the rhetoric to celebrating clean athletes, trainers, teams, coaches, agents, brands and events who value clean sport.

There is an absolute need for a social movement. This is exactly WHY the pledges matter, the tweets and 'grams matter. The platform is to allow people to loudly express-- in unison--their passion FOR Clean Sport.  

This is a culture where how we compete is just as important as the results we achieve.

If you haven’t read it, we encourage you to read the article from Outside Magazine – Can the Collective Do Any Good? We definitely think so!

"If public outrage against drug cheats were to reach fever pitch, no company would want to risk association with athletes who have broken the rules. In that sense, the responsibility lies with us."

Transparency matters. Honesty matters. Our collective voice matters.

Next steps:

Awareness is always the first step. We can’t know what to fix unless there is an awareness of the issues at hand. We also have a responsibility to put boots on the ground for action.

In the next couple of weeks, we will begin announcing organizations that we will be partnering with in our four lanes of positive change – Testing, Education, Industry Advocacy and Restoration. This will continue to build as the Clean Sport Collective builds, as we want ALL sports to have a place in Clean Sport.  This is when we will need your help to reach our goals!

We will be debuting a collective of powerful voices around Clean Sport to educate and inspire along with a podcast for clean athletes to talk about the importance of Clean Sport.

We want to make sure your membership is known, and the public statement of awareness is a very important part of the process. We will be adding all the members across the charters very soon.

You all are the early adopters who have broken ground on positive change. You are the ambassadors for Clean Sport. Keep the pledges coming!

There is no expiration date on signing the pledge and displaying your pledge for Clean Sport. Every voice matters. And, we encourage you to put on the Clean Sport temporary tattoo and race with it at every race. We want this to be a part of every uniform kit – to always race with Clean Sport. Be an ambassador for Clean Sport and strike up a conversation with someone who isn’t familiar yet.

This is just the beginning. We have a lot of work to do to clean up sport. Together, through this journey, we will make a positive movement.

Stay tuned for more ahead. And, reach out. We would love to hear from you for any suggestions! hello@cleansport.org


Shanna and CSC team