Athletes are less likely to take drugs if they are part of a team than if they are competing as individuals, research undertaken by experts at the University of Stirling has suggested.
The study, led by sports doping researcher Dr Paul Dimeo, set out to investigate if the environment of a team sport provided greater protection from the risk of doping compared with athletes competing in individual sports.
After comparing the responses of 200 Scottish athletes across team, individual and hybrid sports the survey, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), indeed found a positive correlation.
“It emerged that the team environment and the sense of belonging to a ‘team’ of some description protects athletes as they fear both the shame of being caught and banned as well as the likely social marginalization that would follow,” said Dimeo.
“We also found that there was a perceived distinction between individual and team sports with regard to the pressures influencing athletes to dope, particularly in terms of the influence or otherwise of a coach.
“Some team sport athletes were of the opinion the coach-athlete relationship may have a slightly different emphasis in individual sports as a result of greater one-to-one contact time.
“The coach may exercise more influence over the athlete, for example.
“Team athletes may in part be ‘protected’ against doping because of the coach-created motivational environment focusing more on mastery and development than purely outcomes.”
Most athletes in the study felt doping was liable to be of greater benefit to those competing in endurance and power-based sports, like athletics, rather than sports with a significant tactical component.
Most drugs scandals in 2013 have involved those sports, like athletics, cycling and – in a Paralympic sense – powerlifting.
As well as the failed tests experience by, among others, sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, there have been many other scandals in these sports particularly in countries like Russia, Turkey and Nigeria.
Team sports however have not been completely immune.
Baseball continues to suffer from the problem while Scottish rugby sevens player Sam Chalmers failed a test earlier in 2013 which prompted rumours of more underlying doping problems in the amateur side of the sport.
The study at the University of Stirling also highlighted a potential need to tighten existing anti-doping legislation.
Article 11 of the WADA Code states that sanctions including the loss of points and disqualification can be imposed upon a team if three or more people in the team are found guilty of a doping violation.
But it was found that few athletes were aware of this legislation and feedback from the Scottish athletes led to the authors of the study providing a number of recommendations.
“We can see the value in regulating against teams found to have a number of athletes who tested positive, for example clean athletes don’t want to feel cheated if they lose to a team found to have a number of doped performers”, Dimeo said.
“If team sport athletes are aware of the potential consequences then they might promote anti-doping within their own team.
“We have noted a lack of awareness of this legislation and discrepancies in its implementation, but the fear of being caught and the shame it brings remain the strongest factors preventing team athletes from considering using banned substances.”
WADA President John Fahey also added his voice to the debate as he welcomed the latest research.
“This study has been very insightful in offering explanations as to why athletes chose different paths,” he said.
“While we must remember that this study offers just a snapshot of Scottish athletes, there is no doubt it paints an interesting picture of the influences athletes face, and how they decide to act in the company of their peers.
“The results of this study have presented us with some rich information that we can take forward to help shape future anti-doping conversation and policy.”
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Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article is reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.