The concept evolved over the past year in the midst of one doping scandal after another. In the latest chapter, Rita Jeptoo, a Kenyan who was a two-time Chicago and Boston marathon champion, had her titles stripped and was given a four-year suspension for testing positive for EPO. Also within the past week, a World Anti-Doping Agency report highlighted the failings and shortcomings of drug testing at the Rio Olympics, indicating that half the tests were never conducted because athletes couldn’t be located.
As an attempt to turn attention to runners who aren’t cheating, the Clean Sport Collective was created by Shanna and Kevin Burnette, who are also cofounders of ModCraft, an agency that promotes and represents athletes including two-time Olympian Kara Goucher. Goucher was among those who said in 2015 that her former coach Alberto Salazar had pushed the ethical limits of prescription drug use by athletes to achieve performance gains. (Salazar has denied the allegations and has not been charged with wrongdoing by anti-doping officials).
“It came out of so many people wanting to believe again in the sport and wanting to restore hope,” Shanna Burnette said. “The idea is to start a movement in unity and transparency.”
Anybody can join the collective by signing one of nine pledges found on the organization’s website. The group is encouraging companies, professional athletes, fans, running clubs, coaches, agents, and medical professionals to participate in promising to “always train clean, compete clean, and live clean.”
Elite athletes on board so far include Goucher and Olympians Molly Huddle, Jenny Simpson, Emma Coburn, Alysia Montaño, and others. Brands that have signed on include Nuun Hydration and its 1,000 or so amateur athlete ambassadors, Brooks, Altra, Oiselle, Skechers, Run Gum, and Picky Bars. Josh Cox, a former elite marathoner who is now an athlete agent, has also supported the cause.
Kevin Rutherford, CEO of Nuun and a Clean Sport Collective board member, said he got involved in the effort because he believes that athletes aren’t the only people who should be promoting clean sport. While many companies may include a clause in private sponsorship contracts that mandate athletes compete clean, most don’t talk about it.
“Very few brands are taking a stand to outwardly say, ‘This is unacceptable and we will only have clean athletes on our team,’” he said. “I’m hoping that by speaking out we can potentially bring more brands in.”
Beyond the publicity campaign, the nonprofit will raise funds to help race organizations that can’t afford testing to pay for it. Burnette said that top trail and ultra races in particular struggle with the expense and don’t have the means for out-of-competition testing. Funds will also go toward equipping drug-testing regimes with the latest anti-doping tools and research, Burnette said.
The organization will also begin programs for those who have admitted to doping, to help them find opportunities to educate youth by speaking about their mistakes and consequences, for example.
“Scandal after scandal, we just kind of move on after a day,” Rutherford said. “We really need to make it a movement by talking about competing clean, almost so doping becomes the smoking of sport—it’s not the right way to do it and it becomes a complete taboo. Today it’s not because the repercussions are very little.”