Expert Opinion

Lance Armstrong doping scandal

Following Lance Armstrong's admission to doping, it is evident that detection-based deterrence is not effective in deterring all athletes from using performance enhancing substances. More emphasis is needed on prevention.

Here, athletes develop their life skills to protect themselves against enticement into doping. Researchers in the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure (ISPAL) at Leeds Metropolitan University have been examining the psycho-social factors which influence any athlete's willingness to dope.

ISPAL PhD student, Lisa Whitaker, states: 'Our aim is to determine why some athletes begin doping and to establish the most effective interventions to prevent it. We will also establish the trigger points within an athlete's career that makes them more vulnerable to doping. Early findings suggest three such points. First, doping increases if they think everyone else is using performance enhancing substances. Second, doping risk increases following an injury before a major competition. Third, and finally, when athletes suffer a dip in performance which threatens their contract or funding, doping becomes more likely'. Overall, a key contextual factor is being in a culture that encourages athletes to believe that others are doping. Armstrong's account shows how powerful this is.

"Given the sensitivities around discussing personal behaviour, attention is now shifting. ISPAL PhD researcher, Laurie Patterson, emphasises: 'Facilities such as the UK Anti-Doping hotline are encouraging athletes to call to discuss any concerns they may have regarding the doping behaviour of others. The Armstrong case has once again highlighted that athletes rarely act alone in doping. Other members of the sportsnet may find themselves involved - whether or not they choose to be. It is crucial to learn from the Armstrong case and provide more support to these individuals in the future.'

"Education currently focuses on raising awareness of anti-doping rules and regulations. The next step is to move to preparing athletes and their sportnet with the skills and confidence to prevent or intervene in doping behaviours. To do this relies on our understanding of where members of the sportsnet fit in the complex puzzle of doping behaviours. Research being carried out at Leeds Metropolitan University is taking some of the first steps towards this by exploring coaches' perceptions of the relevance of anti-doping and their role in doping prevention and intervention. Our researchers are also working with other researchers in the UK, Australia and the US to develop a global perspective on this issue."

Next week, Dr Backhouse will travel to Brussels to join others members of the EU with expertise in doping prevention to consider the issue of doping in recreational and fitness sport as it is believed that the use of performance and image enhancing substances has become a public health concern.

Professor Susan Backhouse

Director of Research / Carnegie School Of Sport

Sue is the Director of Research for Sport and Exercise Science, Leisure and Tourism, leading our REF2021 submission. Sue is an interdisciplinary academic serving as a Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Nutrition in the Carnegie School of Sport.

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