Research reveals athletes' willingness to dope
The study, carried out by sports scientists in the University's Carnegie Research Institute, and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, investigated athletes' doping-related attitudes, beliefs and willingness to participate in performance enhancement in sport. The researchers found that national-level athletes displayed a significantly greater willingness to dope and perceived themselves as more similar to dopers than athletes competing at any other level.
The study, which gathered over 700 anonymous responses from athletes from a range of sports, revealed that athletes would be most willing to use a banned substance if they were to suffer a dip in performance and their funding was under threat or if they were to suffer an injury before a major competition. The athletes also indicated that they would be more likely to use banned substances if they thought others were using and getting away with it, although they felt themselves that they would receive little approval from their significant others if they were to use banned substances.
Results from the study also found that male athletes perceived themselves to be more similar to athletes who use banned substances when compared to female athletes. It also suggested that athletes' perceptions of those who use banned substances must be targeted through prevention programmes that instil negative attitudes towards doping. The findings of the study highlight the importance of extending anti-doping provision beyond elite-level sport and the need to target athletes' doping-related perceptions.
Speaking about the study's results, lead researcher Dr Lisa Whitaker said: "The findings of this study reinforce the message that doping takes place at all levels of competition. Sub-elite athletes but particularly those competing at national level, who may be on the cusp of reaching the next level, appear most vulnerable to doping. As a result of this, it is imperative that anti-doping education extends beyond elite-level sport. Receiving education early on in an athlete's career could help provide them with the skills to deal with periods of instability and prevent the use of performance-enhancing substances. The World Anti-Doping Agency recognises the importance of prevention and as a result, has implemented changes to the WADA Code 2015. When the new Code comes into force, values-based prevention programmes will become a compulsory component. Particular focus will also be on educating young people through school curricula."
Of the athletes who responded, 2.3% of athletes admitted currently using performance enhancing substances, while 4.5% reported previous use (1.2% had used once and never since, 1.8% occasionally used banned substances, and 1.5% systematically used banned substances).
National-level athletes perceived themselves as significantly more similar to performance enhancing substances users compared with athletes competing at club/university, county and international level. Similarly, males reported that they were significantly more similar to performance enhancing substances users compared with females.
Perhaps unsurprisingly athletes competing at international level were portrayed as least willing to use performance enhancing substances when compared with club/university, county and national athletes. Fellow athletes and coaches were perceived by more athletes to approve of them using banned substances compared with doctors and family.
A key finding of the present study was that national-level athletes may be particularly at risk of doping in comparison to athletes competing at any other level. These findings provide support for previous work carried out by Pitsch and Emrich (2011) who suggest that doping is a greater problem among sub-elite athletes than those competing at international level. Owing to financial constraints, a very small proportion of competing sportsmen and women are part of the national registered testing pool. Thus, national-level athletes are not likely to be deterred from using PES by drug testing because the focus of current anti-doping policy is skewed toward the elite-level athlete. The study highlights that more emphasis should be placed on targeting preventative education at national-level athletes so that the WADA and UNESCO can fulfil their aim of ensuring all athletes have the right to compete in clean honest sport.