Growing appreciation of the fundamental limitations of the detection-deterrence approach to anti-doping (e.g., limited effectiveness of tests) necessitate a shift in focus to doping prevention through education and training.
While education has been a cornerstone of the anti-doping movement since the inception of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2009, existing education interventions are largely centred on information giving, focused on elite athlete populations.
This gap in provision is concerning; athletes and athlete support personnel (ASP) functioning at the sub-elite levels commonly report receiving limited anti-doping education. Athletes are therefore entering elite level competition with a restricted understanding of anti-doping rules and regulations, which heightens the risk of inadvertent doping. Initiatives such as UK Anti-Doping’s (UKAD) current Clean Sport Week (#CleanSportWeek) are testimony to this – UKAD recognises the need to engage with young athletes to facilitate clean sport.
Universities offer a powerful sub-elite level setting for disseminating bespoke anti-doping education interventions given that they house many of the next generation of elite (a) athletes and (b) ASP. This approach can also strengthen efforts to create an anti-doping culture beyond the traditional sport setting, given that not all university students will pursue a career in sport. These young people can transfer their anti-doping knowledge into whatever future setting they enter and increase public understanding and involvement in doping deterrence.
In addition to considering when anti-doping education is delivered, it is also necessary to consider what education is provided. Increasingly, education encourages the message that responsibility for active anti-doping lies across the whole sporting community. This includes both athletes and ASP, given they are now recognised as key influencers in shaping athletes’ doping attitudes and behaviours. Yet, preliminary research conducted by our research team (Erickson, Backhouse, & Carless, 2017; Patterson & Backhouse, 2018) indicates a predictable reluctance to accept this responsibility; few are prepared to play an active role in doping prevention. This presents a critical issue in the pursuit of clean sport that needs to be addressed. In response, and with a vision for advancing current anti-doping education practice, our research team developed ‘RE>ACT’ (which stands for ‘recognise’ and ‘take action’) – a clean sport bystander intervention.
REACT Clean Sport Bystander Intervention
RE>ACT seeks to create a community-based approach to doping deterrence. The intervention draws on established theories and programme design to encourage individuals to overcome the ‘bystander effect’ (an individual's likelihood to help decreases when passive bystanders are present in critical situations) and actively address substance use in sport. Inaction harms (1) the doper, by allowing them to continue using a prohibited substance/method, (2) the ‘bystander’ (person who witnesses a critical situation), by putting them at risk of being deemed complicit to the doping behaviour (committing an anti-doping rule violation), (3) the clean athlete, by threatening their right to participate in clean sport, and (4) global sport, by questioning its integrity and thus, damaging its reputation. In light of this, RE>ACT enhances current anti-doping education practice by offering confrontation as an effective self-regulation approach. RE>ACT employs five decision-making steps:
- Notice the event
- Interpret the event as a problem
- Assume personal responsibility
- Know how to help
- Implement the help – RE>ACT!
The main aims of RE>ACT are to:
- Raise individuals’ awareness to intervention-worthy substance use situations (dietary supplements, appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs), prescription medications, and illicit drugs),
- Help individuals recognise their personal role and responsibility in such situations,
- Equip individuals with the skills/knowledge necessary to safely confront these situations.
RE>ACT consists of one interactive workshop (120 minutes) delivered in person. The workshop introduces the theories and evidence underpinning the five steps of the situational model (above) and concepts related to effective confrontation. Next, participants have the opportunity to apply their new skills and knowledge to address topics identified as pertinent to the university athlete context [dietary supplements, appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs), prescription medications (e.g., cognitive enhancers, painkillers), and illicit drugs]. Workshops are interactive, including discussions and opportunities to practice addressing hypothetical substance use scenarios. In line with UKAD’s vision, RE>ACT provides a platform for athletes and ASP to talk openly about clean sport and all that it entails.
Clean sport is everyone’s responsibility and RE>ACT is designed to help individuals recognise their personal responsibilities within the wider global pursuit of clean sport. We are happy to support UKAD’s #CleanSportWeek with this initiative and look forward to sharing updates in relation to programme delivery.
Dr Kelsey Erickson is a former Research Fellow at Leeds Beckett University. Her primary research interest is the social psychology of doping in sport. Her PhD research was titled "Doping in Sport: a cross-national (US and UK) analysis of track and field athletes".