“That’s why he becomes so important because we’ve got someone who has actually lived and breathed the pressures and the fallout, seen the impact on people’s lives, particularly from a welfare point of view, and what that whole scandal has done to a lot of athletes,” ASADA chief executive David Sharpe said.
“Using that experience and his voice is critical to us to be able to get a message out about, particularly, concerns around inadvertent doping [and] what’s in supplements.”
Heighington is joined as an ASADA athlete educator by fellow former Cronulla forward Sam Tagataese, who was at the Sharks from 2011-17. He was one of the players cleared in July 2013 by ASADA when 17 others received sanctions. The other educator is Queensland Intrust Super Cup player Luke Archer, whose upbringing was tainted by drugs and alcohol, and who comes from the sub-NRL level that Sharpe, a former Canberra Raiders junior and football manager, has made a priority.
Among the six rugby league players serving bans for anti-doping violations, all but one are from competitions below the NRL. Former Newcastle and NSW halfback Jarrod Mullen, who was banned for four years over steroid use, is the outlier, although Broncos hooker James Segeyaro was provisionally suspended last month after a positive test for Ligandrol.
“The NRL and the major sports put a lot of effort into their education and welfare programs but below that is where we’ve identified a number of risks and threats that we were concerned about, where we believed we needed to inject messaging and education,” Sharpe said.
“We looked at our education programs and realised they really didn’t focus on the athlete message or how to appropriately engage with young athletes because they don’t understand the rules, they don’t understand supplements, they don’t understand science and chemistry.
“How [do] we get a message out to athletes who are working all week and playing football so they [don’t] go and take a supplement off the shelf [when] the supplement is tainted. How do we prevent them from doing that? I don’t want to see any young athlete out of sport, no one does.”