Wrong to judge athletes in TUEs debate

A few weeks ago, no one outside of sport had ever heard of a TUE. It had always been an abbreviation of the word ‘Tuesday’. Now we are all TUE (therapeutic use exemption) experts and the arguments for and against them have been swirling around in the media, on social networks and even among my family and friends.

Because we are all medical experts, right?

No. We are all experts at judging.

On TUE Tuesday as I like to call it now, I wrote on Twitter: “Never had a TUE. #justsaying” in response to some ex-athletes who had previously mentioned that they had one when they were competing.

To be honest, I was feeling a little left out as it seemed many athletes at one stage had one.

The response was interesting. “Oh well done for being perfect!” – No, didn’t say that I was perfect. “Are you saying TUEs are granted too readily then?” – Erm … No, didn’t say that either. “You should apologise to all athletes who have them” – Why?! “Are you suggesting that you are cleaner than other athletes?” – No … just saying that I haven’t had a TUE.

Just as when the ‘Fancy Bears’ (stupid name by the way) decided to leak medical information on certain athletes and use the term ‘legalised doping’, all of us judged in a second about that athlete. Whether it was because they were from a certain country, a certain sport (a definite bias here), or even a certain illness or ailment, we all had an opinion. Yes, he or she is a cheat. No, he or she is not a cheat.

It’s human nature to judge. A person interviewing for a job will decide in a split-second, when someone walks through the door, whether that applicant is successful or not. It may be their walk, the way they dress, whether they are fat or thin, even if they like your name. But whatever it is, the choice and control is out of the applicant’s hands and into the interviewer’s.

A good friend is one of the athletes whose medical TUEs have been leaked. I spoke to her yesterday and she is in pieces. She has nothing to hide – believe me, this girl is so moral that she makes Bambi look like a drugs cheat – but she is devastated at people’s judgments, the way people have asked her leading questions, about being linked with the word ‘doping’. She was in tears the whole time.

Now, the flip-side is, there is a very grey area with TUEs. We know this with drug testing and blood passport readings. I do know of an instance where an athlete had gone all his life absolutely fine and was then diagnosed with asthma at the age of 30 and suddenly had an inhaler. There are legal ramifications about the disclosure of personal medical information that anyone outside of sport has a right to keep confidential. Martyn Ziegler from the Times tweeted me: ‘What about intersex cases?’, and of course, in extreme cases, this highly sensitive information can be devastating to an athlete if it gets released.

Try as hard as you can, not to judge. Push that instinct to the back of your mind and ask yourself: “Why is it OK for me to have this medication when I am very ill, and I am judging an athlete who may have had the same illness and the same medication?” Back in the day, when I was starting out, I couldn’t even have a Lemsip Max when I had a cold!

As athletes, the minute you become a professional, your body is no longer solely yours. You belong to that sport, UK Sport, The National Lottery, Great Britain, your coach, your team and everyone else involved in making you the best athlete you can be. Your activities are monitored, the number of steps you take, your nutrition and sleep, so you know what, your medical records are just going to be one of those things that you have to suck up and deal with for the good of the sport. Nothing to hide, though, right?


Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.