Former Great Britain athlete Bernice Wilson opens up about her bans, the financial and emotional strains that put on her life and her work with the UK Anti-Doping Athlete Commission

By Paul Eddison, Sportsbeat

Bernice Wilson.
Bernice Wilson.

Bernice Wilson knows better than anyone the devastating effects of doping in sport so when she speaks, it is worth listening.

The former GB sprinter, from Boston, served two separate bans for anti-doping rule violations, the second of which came after she was administered prohibited substances without her knowledge by her then-coach and boyfriend Dr George Skafidas.

While Skafidas was eventually banned for life by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) back in 2016, the malign influence that he had on Wilson’s career and life in general endured.

Bernice Wilson, of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, competes in the Women's 60m heats during day twoi of the 31st European Athletics Indoor Championships at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy on March 5, 2011 in Paris. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

When he returned to his native Greece after receiving the ban, Wilson was left to foot the bill for her legal costs, while also rebuilding her reputation and recovering from the domestic abuse suffered at his hands with the support of family, friends, the Nottinghamshire Police and UKAD.

She explains: “When my results came back positive, it made everything very negative for me.

"It had a very big impact on my reputation.

"I was well-known locally within Boston in Lincolnshire where I was based. I was seen as a role model to younger athletes.

Bernice Wilson representing Great Britain.

“When it was found that I was guilty of doping, I had financial difficulties as well.

"I only really finished paying off my solicitor’s fees last year. I lost my job at the time as a sports development officer.

"I ended up without a job for about a couple of weeks to a month and then I started working for the NHS."

Wilson described her life as 'in a bad place' due to her relationship with her then-coach.

Bernice Wilson.

“There is a bigger story," Wilson added.

"I was very influenced by my coach who I was also in a relationship with as well. It was really messy because there was domestic violence involved.

"I was in a very bad place at the time because I was brainwashed as well, he made me think other athletes are doping.

"That’s the perception that I had. He was telling me that everyone was doing it so I should do it too.

“People start to say things. It’s really hard to take. It’s partly because they didn’t know the full story with regards to how I was influenced by my coach.

“I didn’t share that, I wasn’t prepared to share everything with regards to the domestic violence. I kept a lot to myself, not many people knew about it.

“My family and closest friends knew and encouraged me to speak out, but I didn’t. He had a big influence on me, even financially.

"He told me he had paid half of the solicitor’s fee and I thought it was all paid and it wasn’t.”

For Wilson, finally paying off her solicitor’s fees has been a big step in moving on. Alongside her job working in infection control for the NHS, she is also coaching, helping others avoid the pitfalls into which she fell.

She credits a lot of her recovery to UKAD, who encouraged her to speak out about her situation.

She said: “UKAD really helped me. When I came out and said everything with regards to my coach George Skafidas, they were really supportive. I’d kept a lot to myself at the time.

“Because of that, I wanted to give something back. I’ve always said that even if I can help one person, I’ll feel really good about that.

“It was the doping side but it was also the domestic violence side. It was a part of my life that was very negative so for me to share the story, I hope to help people and share my experiences.”

Wilson is now part of UKAD’s Athlete Commission, providing her unique insight to the group in the battle to protect clean sport.

UKAD is encouraging people who have any information or suspicions about doping in sport to share it via their Protect Your Sport initiative.

All informants details are kept completely confidential throughout.

For Wilson, 38, the key is always communication.

She said: “I would say that it’s important to speak to other people more. I didn’t really. When I was younger, I was quite shy and kept a lot of things to myself.

“If I was speaking to my younger self when I was in a relationship with my coach, I’d say to keep things separate.

"So don’t get involved in a relationship with your coach. And then just to speak to someone.”

Protecting clean sport depends on everyone in sport playing their part to maintain a level playing field. If you have any suspicions that something’s not right, no matter how small, search Protect Your Sport or email [email protected] Your identity will be kept 100% confidential throughout.