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Month November 2013

Working with an ex-doper on an anti-doping campaign

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Working in PR always throws up intriguing events, activities and outcomes and one of PRM’s latest projects is right up there with the best of them.

 

Skins’ Pure Sport campaign hit 6 countries in 6 weeks
Existing client, SKINS produces internationally recognised sports compression wear and the company’s Chairman, Jaimie Fuller has a long history of championing the basic values of sporting integrity through the brand. Jaimie has gained a swift reputation for challenging sports’ decision-makers when they fall short of expectation and the players and athletes for on-field and in-play cheating. As a global corporate player and sporting sponsor, Jaimie is a fervent believer that his brand should defend ‘The Spirit of True Competition’ by promoting clean and fair sport available to all. 
 
So with Jaimie at the forefront, SKINS decided to launch an anti-doping campaign called ChooseTheRightTrack which featured former Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson as its leading ambassador. It’s a project which calls for a drastic overhaul of world sport’s anti-doping programme and with three main points in it’s global campaign, ChooseTheRightTrack is targeting radical change.
 
SKINS say the IOC must act to eradicate doping in sport. They must support the athletes and bridge a communications gap that has existed for generations between administrators and athletes. The campaign also proposes that the World Anti-Dpoping Agency (WADA) should have a mandate for independence and a realistic annual budget and further suggests that a Truth & Reconciliation style approach should be available for sports who need it.
 
The three points have been specifically presented like this:
 
  1. WADA must have a transparent, unambiguous mandate that provides independence to its activities and adequate funding to effectively implement the code, free from political interference.
  2. An Athlete’s Support Council (ASC) reporting to WADA must be established to support, educate and offer whistle blowing services to athletes and bridge the cultural gap and mistrust that exists between the administrators and the athletes.
  3. A Truth & Reconciliation type process must be initiated to allow certain sports (immediately starting with Cycling) to break the doping culture chain and give access to a level of intelligence that can only be enjoyed through maximum cooperation from current and ex dopers.
 

Of course there have been many initiatives championing a topic which seems to have endless discussion potential, but apart from the three definitive and strenuous core principles, this one also features a real twist with they inclusion of Ben, who’s acknowledged as the most famous sporting doper in the history of sport. Ben tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) after ‘winning’ the 100 metres final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. He was subsequently disqualified and  has lived to regret his decision to cheat ever since.

 
When I first met him to discuss the project on behalf of SKINS in Frankfurt, I was impressed with how genuine he was in admitting his mistakes. Here was a man who, for 25 years, has been vilified and – in my opinion – misunderstood. The 25th anniversary of that race and the potential campaign was a perfect opportunity to confirm the level of atonement Ben has apparently failed to realise previously. For me, there was one important element to this sudden burst of potential visibility. Ben wasn’t going to be paid by SKINS for his part in the campaign. They were picking up the expenses – nothing more – for a trip around the world to promote a campaign the company and it’s Chairman passionately believed in and that Ben was committed to supporting. There was a natural and mutual narrative.
 
From a PR perspective, non-payment was an important fact because the cynicism of the media – particularly in the UK – would have rendered the campaign beaten before it began. It would’ve been perfectly understandable for the press and the public to say that Ben was prepared to say anything for a pay cheque, but here we were with a man who’s involvement was based on commitment rather than finance and an anti-doping campaign had a great frontman.
 
So why would Ben want to do such a thing? Well, after 25 years, his life has clearly changed. He is adamant that taking PEDs was the biggest mistake of his life. He accepts full responsibility for the decisions he made – even if he was cajoled by others – and now wants others to heed the warning. Doping has ruined Ben’s life and 25 years ago, he had no-one to turn to when the option was offered. The campaign’s Athlete Support Council covers that area and although it clearly doesn’t guarantee consistent success, it is a proposal that would represent a massive step forward. Another motivating factor is that Ben is now a grandfather and 8 year-old Micaila is the apple of his eye. Now that she’s showing a genuine interest in track and field herself, he doesn’t want her growing up thinking her Granddad is no better than a cheat and SKINS provided an opportunity to do something about it on a credible platform he believed was right. 
 
At the time of writing, Ben has spoken in the UK, Canada and the USA with Australia, Japan and Seoul to come on the campaign’s world tour. In Seoul he’ll re-visit the stadium where he took part in the 100 metres final they now call ‘the dirtiest race in history’ and he’ll walk out onto the track at the exact moment that it all happened, 25 years ago. 
So far, the SKINS campaign has been embraced by just about all who have received it to the extent you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Ben, whose natural shyness sometimes masks his determination, has proved a credible and eminently believable frontman. Putting the programme together has been fun and tough in equal measure and for PRM it’s a privilege to be involved.
 
If you want to learn more about the campaign and it’s objectives, click here