Lance Armstrong: Doping in sport and crisis communications
Dr Sue Backhouse from Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure:
"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.
Robert Minton-Taylor, Leeds Metropolitan University's Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Communications:
"The United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA) claims that Armstrong and his US Postal Service Team (UPS) Team "ran the most sophisticated, professionalized (sic) and successful doping programme the sport has ever seen." And as we know he has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.
"On the Oprah Winfrey Show Lance Armstrong needs to admit what he did was wrong and to be sincere in his apology. He needs to demonstrate to his viewing audience contriteness, sincerity and empathy. Armstrong has to convince the general public and his stakeholders that he is going to make amends and work with the sport to ensure that it rids itself of the legacy of doping abuse.
"Had Armstrong chosen to come clean right up front when the issue of doping started unravelling in the hope of seeking forgiveness then maybe the initial backlash of his key publics could have been less severe. His primary message during the crisis was one of concern for his cancer charity and no doubt he felt, naively I may add, that if he had come 'clean' it would have impacted on the reputation of the charity. But if you were a cynic you might say that his charity work was a convenient cover for his cheating in the sport that made him famous.
"One of the principles of crisis communication is to take care of what you say and how you say it. In other words you have to demonstrate the 5 'C's concern, clarity, control, confidence and competence in dealing with a crisis.
"Ultimately, Lance Armstrong and his team failed to show that kind of crisis communications nous. His principal problem is that what he says now - in the eyes of many - will lack credibility because he has tried to defend the indefensible. He should have been open, transparent and honest at the start, because the truth will always out especially in the world of digital and social media when crises have a nasty habit of spreading as fast as a blink of an eye.
"As Abraham Lincoln said: 'I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.' It's a pity that Lance Armstrong failed to follow the maxim followed by the 16th president of the United States in the 19th century!
"As one of my final year sports marketing & PR students, Alex Sim pointed out perhaps, only one man (Lance Armstrong) will ever really know (the truth). So as he puts it will Lance Armstrong be remembered as being a Livestrong person or a Liestrong person?"