Former GB sprinter calls for talk and trust in fight against doping

·3-min read
Bernice Wilson is hoping today's athletes can learn from her experiences
Bernice Wilson is hoping today's athletes can learn from her experiences

Talk and trust is the message to athletes from Bernice Wilson, as the former sprinter hopes the stars of today can learn from her experiences with doping.

Wilson was banned twice for anti-doping violations during her career after being put under pressure and duped into taking them by her coach and former partner George Skafidas.

The former GB athlete lost her job and athletics career as a result and now hopes to raise awareness of the issue by telling her story.

“Athletes shouldn’t keep quiet if they feel under pressure or worried about anything,” said Wilson, who is now part of the UK Anti-Doping commission. "Trust your own ability.

“There are people that athletes can talk to so they don’t get in that same position that I was in. UK Anti-Doping, they’re always available to talk to.

“Communication is the key – I kept silent and I shouldn’t have done and it was the best thing when I spoke about everything that had happened, I felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders.”

Wilson was first banned in 2011 after Skafidas supplied her with performance-enhancing drugs.

Like many athletes, Wilson was chasing her dream and felt vulnerable to those advising her on her career.

“It was a very dark time for me,” added Wilson. “George was very dominating and there was domestic violence involved, it was quite a scary time.

“He said you will not be able to make it in athletics unless you do drugs unless you start taking performance-enhancing drugs.”

The impact was devastating both on and off the track, with Wilson dismissed from her job and her name smeared as a banned athlete.

“I got a ban but there was so much more that comes with it,” she admitted. “I had solicitor fees to pay which I’ve only finished paying recently.

“It was a very difficult time for me, I felt very lonely, I did the unfortunate thing of going onto Facebook and looking at media and saw a lot of negative things about me.

“I was well known and my reputation was really harmed - even now I worry that people will be thinking ‘oh. that’s the woman that was banned.’

“I was definitely affected mentally. Sometimes I would get upset and just start crying for no reason.”

Wilson received a second ban after Skafidas swapped her vitamins for performance-enhancing drugs without her knowledge, leading to the coach being banned for life by UK Anti-Doping in 2016.

And now, with the past behind her, Wilson says there is far more support for athletes than there was when she got her ban - but hopes telling her story can help athletes at all levels.

“Hopefully, telling my story, others can benefit so they’re not in the same position,” said Wilson.

“It’s about having that extra support, but also just having the support at club level for them to get involved and provide guidance.

“Now, there is a lot of education out there, there are courses that can be done on the Clean Sport Hub.

“Speak to somebody they feel can give them the guidance, for me that was friends and family.

“I was lucky enough to speak to someone from UKAD, and he was always available for me to speak to.”

“I think athletes are aware but I don’t think they know how much it could affect them. You’re not just going to get a ban, it can really ruin a big part of your life."

Clean Sport Week, which runs from 23-27 May, is UK Anti-Doping’s (UKAD’s) national awareness week, championing clean sport, education, and anti-doping initiatives with sports across the UK.

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