Toby's Blog Series: WADA Symposium

News Written by Toby Atkins

Hello everyone and welcome back to the blog!

This edition is going to be a little bit different to previous posts – I recently attended The World Anti – Doping Agency’s (WADA) annual symposium and thought that a blog about my time there would be an interesting read, I hope you agree!

As the majority of you reading this are most likely aware, I am well known in the cycling world as the kid who blew the whistle on a team that asked me to dope. If you didn’t know this, I urge you to read this article before going too far into this as it will all seem a little bit backwards!

After telling my story at the Junior World Track Cycling Championships in 2016, I met some incredible people at both the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and WADA. A few months after returning from this trip I found an email in my inbox asking if I would come and present my story at WADA’s annual symposium at Lausanne, Switzerland. It didn’t take much convincing!


So what exactly is the WADA symposium? WADA is the global governing body for the fight against anti – doping in sport. They run all of the testing, investigations, education and write all of the rules that us athletes play by. Pretty much every major sport is affiliated to WADA in some shape or form. For example, with my cycling, it is the UCI that is affiliated to WADA. In short, they are what keeps sport fair, healthy and safe. For several years now WADA has held an annual conference with its stakeholders, mainly to inform and discuss how sport is progressing.

This year they tried something completely new. They held a symposium at the Olympic headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. On top of the usual networking and discussions there were numerous workshops and talks for both media and stake holders to attend. In total, there were nearly 800 attendees including over 100 of the worlds media, making the event bigger than any anti – doping discussion held previously.

Why me you may ask? Well as I said previously, I am the ‘whistle blower’ and the subject of athletes speaking out is a hot topic right now, especially with the ongoing cases in Russia. I was asked to present my story on stage alongside the lady at the UCI that was on the other end of the phone when everything went pear shaped. The goal of which, is to give the suits behind the scenes an understanding of what athletes really face, so that WADA could create pathways for athletes committed to clean sport.

Figure 1. Round Table Discussion


Enough with explaining! On with the trip!

Switzerland – Day One

I won’t bore you with talking about the trip from New Zealand to Switzerland, all you need to know is that Switzerland is my favorite place in the world for riding a bike, so the epic flight didn’t seem too bad!

I arrived in Lausanne the day before the symposium so I had time to go for a ride to take in the scenery. I had forgotten how beautiful Lake Geneva was! Peddling along the waterfront, past the Olympic headquarters, Olympic museum, it really was like being in a dream – only with slightly more wind in my face!

Figure 2. A crisp Lausanne morning


I ended up finding my way to the top of a mountain pass, only to discover that the road back to the town was closed due to snow. It didn’t look too bad so I pushed onwards. It was at that point that I learnt the lesson that the Swiss don’t joke about closed roads. I spent 30 minutes hiking over mini avalanches before I could remount my bike!

Figure 3. The Swiss don't joke about a road being closed!


After eventually getting back to the hotel it was time to meet WADA’s athlete committee, the group I would spend most of my time with. We headed out to an incredible restaurant for dinner where I was treated to a lovely 3 course meal. Unfortunately, I was so jet-lagged it felt like 3 am so it was an early night for me!

Day Two

Day two was the start of the symposium. I headed out to the convention centre with the athlete committee and politely mingled with some of the biggest names from behind the scenes in sport. Before long we were ushered into an auditorium where the sheer size of the event finally hit home. The people on the stage looked like little stick men from back there. To say I was a little nervous was an understatement! The mornings session ticked by and it was time for me to head back stage to get wired up. I’d had the chance to sit down with the journalist as well as my co – speaker just before so I was feeling much more confident in what we were discussing.

Hearing my name being announced and walking onto the stage was a very odd feeling. Its hard to describe. All of a sudden I felt empowered and confident. The hour long talk and following round table discussions went amazingly well. Speaking alongside Dominique (UCI) was by far the highlight of my trip. It was a massively proud moment being able to present with the lady that had steered me through the hardest period of my life – one of those moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. After a big day out our group decided to relax a little and we all went out for pizza at an Italian restaurant that was (unfortunately!) right at the top of the hill that Lausanne is built on. The perfect way to unwind after a big day. Copious amounts of dough and cheese!

Figure 4. Presenting my piece alongside Dominique Leroux (UCI)

Day Three

After yesterday my work was essentially done. However, I was thoroughly enjoying the symposium and headed in for a day of discussions and forums. I’m glad I did as I don’t think I have ever learnt so much in 8 hours! The complexities of sport are mind boggling. We had sessions on legalities of sport, right through to creating a moral charter for athletes to abide by. It was really impressive to see the work going in to making sport a happier, healthier place and after witnessing what’s coming next, I have no doubt that sport is only going to play an even bigger part in our society!

What happened next was a very close runner up in the ‘highlight of the trip’ ranking. I was invited to have lunch with Mr Brian Cookson OBE, president of the UCI. For those that don’t know, that means he’s the most powerful man in cycling! I was a little star struck to say the least but I tried by best to stay level headed. I spent the hour discussing a few of the more serious matters facing cycling but equally spent a good amount of time discussing our training rides we had both been on that morning! Until you meet these people, you don’t realise they are just normal people that appreciate riding their bike! On a more humorous note, Brian also had top notch banter so I can safely say cycling is in safe hands!

Figure 5. "Its cold at the top of the mountains!"

Day Four

My last day in Lausanne had no real responsibilities, so it made sense to spend the day exploring the city. I spent the morning exploring the local cafes and consuming inhuman amounts of coffee, but felt it would be rude not to go and visit the Olympic museum. The museum is located on the side of the hill overlooking Lake Geneva and has to be one of the most beautiful places in the city. I spent several hours exploring the history of the Olympics and learnt some interesting facts! Finally, after enjoying a crepe on the waterfront, it was time to get my bike packed and head for the airport for another 24 – hour long haul flight back to New Zealand! A short trip but massive amounts of experience taken from it!

Figure 6. The Olympic Museum

So, what's next for me?

We have our New Zealand road race and time trial (TT) nationals at the start of May, so training is fully underway for that.  Looking further forward I’ll hopefully be going on a few more round the world trips giving talks on anti – doping, so that’s super exciting as well.

The fitness is coming along nicely and talks are underway to get back to racing full time in Europe for 2018 – exciting times! Watch this space!

Figure 7. Regional TT Championships - Silver Medal

Until next month!

Happy Riding!



p.s. If you have enjoyed my blog, please do share with your friends on social media, using the following tags:

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Thank you!


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