At the launch of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) in Aarhus, Denmark last April, chairperson David Howman said integrity in sport was “a key principle that must be ingrained in the way athletes live their lives and compete”. This message has been communicated to the 1400 athletes at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 this week.
Since its launch, the AIU has been a visible presence around the stadiums and warm-up tracks at IAAF World Athletics Series events, beginning with the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017.
The outreach programme firstly provides athletes with the fundamentals of the work the unit carries out – such as anti-doping, transfer of allegiance, age manipulation and illegal betting – and how athletes are able to contact the Athletics Integrity Unit confidentially which is part of unit’s ‘stand tall, speak up’ motto.
The outreach programme is aimed largely at athletes at U18 and U20 level – many of whom are competing internationally for the first time – and especially athletes from less developed federations which might not have the resources at their disposal to set up any sort of robust educational framework.
The outreach programme also emphasises how the athletes themselves are active stakeholders and have an imperative importance in upholding the virtues of integrity and fair play through their decision making.
“It’s about putting the athlete at the centre of the structures and creating an environment in which they can know and share information,” said Paula Radcliffe, who was part of the Athlete Integrity Unit team on site in Tampere this week. “It is critical to put them in full control of their performances and their actions.”
The participating athletes – along with coaches and support staff – were invited to sign the athletes’ integrity pledge which has been translated into 12 languages and asked to fill out a survey. As well as hammering home the message of fair play, the unit strives to keep the lines of communication with the athletes open at all times in order to maintain the athletes’ trust. The outcome of the surveys will then help to steer the work of the unit.
The unit also has a growing social media presence and sends out regular communications through a variety of digital channels and platforms.
But the overriding message from the athletes who visited the AIU booth in Tampere and talked to the representatives is fair play is paramount and they are committed to doing their utmost ensuring a level playing field.
“It’s very important,” said German sprinter Denise Uphoff, one of the many young athletes to visit the AIU stand in Tampere. “Because if it’s not fair, it’s not sport.”
Steven Mills for the IAAF