The reverberations from the Australian Crime Commission report into illicit activities in Australian Sport will be felt for a long time to come. Over recent days, AFL sports scientists have come under fire due to allegations of supplement abuse at Essendon Football Club. Some members of the Australian media have provided scathing opinions of the value and integrity of our profession, generalising the reported actions of a rogue minority to all and leading to melodramatic reports such as this from The Age: “War on Sports Scientists”.
The salacious style in which news is reported in Australia has bothered me for quite some time. But now, I feel an inadvertent personal involvement in this particular saga due to pockets of irresponsible journalism that conveys to the general public a sense that sports science is necessarily clandestine if it is to be “cutting edge” and performance-enhancing. That sports scientists are concerned in performance outcomes at all costs, but are not concerned about the health and wellbeing of the people they serve.
Wrongdoing exists in every industry. The risks of wrongdoing are likely higher in an environment such as high performance sport, as all stakeholders have become increasingly demanding of constant innovation and immediate success. But it is neither fair nor accurate to generalise the actions of wrongdoers as a reflection of how all sports scientists operate.
Australian sports scientists are highly regarded worldwide for the quality of the work they produce and the integrity with which they go about their jobs. Yes, one key element of our job is to push boundaries and find ways to extend the limits of human performance. But it is worth remembering that we are in the business of serving others. The fruits of our labour are not intended to provide us with direct benefit; our work helps others, our athletes, do better. My experience has been that if you don’t care about your athletes as people first, you won’t cut it in sports science. Engaging in unethical, illegal, and dangerous activities in the name of sports performance also willingly compromises the care of athletes. Any “sports scientists” that approach their work in this manner do not belong in this profession.
With all that said, it’s as good an opportunity as any to highlight the excellent and ethical work that is done by the teams that support our elite athletes. Professor Louise Burke and team of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Sports Nutrition department have put together a thorough and up-to-date resource outlining the AIS Supplements Program. Click here to view the AIS Supplements Program. I’ve also added it to my Learni.st board on “Sports Science in the Real World”. The online resource is publicly accessible, and presents the available evidence on various supplements for enhancing sports performance, with classifications based on the strength of the evidence and its recommended use by the Institute. Not only is it an excellent example of science being applied with care, but it is also well worth a look for those that wish to inform themselves beyond what the newspapers choose to report.