Leeds Beckett research to help global efforts to prevent doping in sport
The research project, funded and supported by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), will be led by Professor Susan Backhouse at Leeds Beckett and provide a post-doctoral research fellowship for Kelsey Erickson who will extend the findings of her doctoral studies by investigating how a bystander intervention programme can be used in addressing doping in sport.
The Leeds Beckett research project was one of only seven projects selected for funding by an expert IOC panel. The projects were chosen due to their relevance to IOC research priorities involving originality, practical application and importance for athletes, as well as the scientific validity, expertise and experience of researchers, and likelihood of success.
As Sue Backhouse, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Nutrition at Leeds Beckett explained: “Leeds Beckett University has been at the forefront of research on the social psychology of doping since 2007 and over the last few years our findings have highlighted the potential transferability of bystander prevention programming to addressing the issue of doping in sport.
“We have recognised a reluctance of athletes and athlete support personnel to report either their own or others’ doping behaviour. Consequently, by drawing upon the bystander model we begin to shift away from the dominant athlete-centred approach to anti-doping by targeting the sports community to actively intervene in situations that may facilitate doping behaviours by changing social norms. In our own research – and further corroborated in recent whistleblowing stories - we have found that athletes and support staff have been concerned about doping behaviours in their sport and wanted to help, but didn’t. Therefore, this research project will raise awareness of helping behaviours, increase motivation to act and develops skills and confidence when responding to problems or concerns."
The research at Leeds Beckett is titled ‘Towards a Vision for Prevention: Testing the feasibility and efficacy of a Clean Sport Bystander Intervention Program (ReAct)’. Drawing on the findings of Kelsey’s doctoral research, the objective of the study is to determine the effectiveness of a bystander intervention in modifying pro-social intervening intentions and behaviours based on sample and control student-athlete populations in the UK, the USA and Canada. Recognising the importance of multi-agency working, the intervention advisory panel includes representatives from the three countries and the representative’s organisations include UK Anti-Doping, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, US) and Brock University (Canada).
The researchers will also seek to determine how well and under what conditions the content and delivery of ReAct promotes and supports increased bystander-related attitudinal changes. The final outcome will be to evaluate whether the delivery model of three consecutive sessions is acceptable to the target population and feasible for widespread delivery. Reflecting on this opportunity, Kelsey Erickson says “I am incredibly fortunate to have the chance to further explore a number of key implications that emerged from my studies. The pursuit of doping-free sport is an issue I am very passionate about and I am excited about this next step and my new role as a Research Fellow within the School of Sport”.
One of the first initiatives of Olympic Agenda 2020 was the creation of a $20 million fund to protect the rights of self-proclaimed clean athletes. Half of the money was earmarked to fund social and scientific research pertaining to anti-doping, the other half to fight match-fixing. The IOC’s strategy for the distribution of this fund is to complement, but not duplicate, existing anti-doping research programmes. Anti-doping organisations agree that alternative strategies are needed, so the priority is innovative and novel research in all areas of anti-doping which has the potential to lead to a significant change in the way anti-doping programmes are carried out, and which will have a direct impact on the daily lives of the self-proclaimed clean athletes.
Susan Backhouse is Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Nutrition and Head of the Centre for Sports Performance in the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure at Leeds Beckett University. She leads an established team of researchers who are actively pursuing programmes of research on the social psychology of doping in sport. Kelsey Erickson has just submitted her doctoral thesis on the risk and protective factors of doping amongst university Track and Field student-athletes in the UK and US. The International Athletics Foundation supported her studies.
In June, Professor Backhouse hosted her professorial inaugural lecture as Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Nutrition at Leeds Beckett University, where she highlighted the need for greater human and financial resource to help prevent doping in sport.