Is doping just another form of cheating?

As previously reported, the UK Anti-doping (UKAD) hopes that Squeaky the Duck will discourage athletes from using drugs at this year's Olympics.

Research with elite athletes on their perceptions of drug taking in sport suggests that the premeditated nature of the behaviour places doping at the most serious end of a ‘cheating continuum’. Added to this, is the popular belief that athletes dope simply in order to win.

However, the issue of doping is more complex than that. Not all banned substances provide performance-enhancing effects, so the suggestion that athletes dope purely to improve competitive results by dishonest means is not necessarily true. Other reasons for taking banned substances include boredom, social experimentation and body image. 

Recent research with athletes who have a history of taking performance-enhancing drugs suggests that a desire to win is often not the main reason either. These athletes doped because it was expected of them or out of a desire to prolong their careers without necessarily remaining at the top of that sport.

This suggests that in order to get to the root of the problem of doping in sport, we can’t simply paint the individual athlete as a cheat or a villain who wants to win at all costs. To further our understanding of the issue we also need to explore the social and environmental factors that influence athletes’ decisions about doping.