New study hopes to stop doping in sport

Controversy about doping has plagued the Tour de France for years, which given that it is one of the toughest sporting events, isn't surprising.

As the competition enters its third and final week we look at emerging areas of research into knowledge production, use and co-production in the field of doping in sport being carried out at the Carnegie Research Institute at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Dr Susan Backhouse, a Chartered Psychologist, leads a team of researchers who are committed to the development of anti-doping policy and practice.

This research focus originated from a review of published literature commissioned by the  World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2007. The first of its kind, this review highlighted a distinct lack of evidence on the social science of doping in sport and emphasised the importance of generating a sound evidence base from which to develop anti-doping education programmes.

Put simply, the researchers are pursuing research opportunities in this field that can be useful, are useable and will be used.  

Nutritional supplement (NS) use is widespread in sport and a recent study applied an integrated social cognitive approach to examine doping attitudes, beliefs and self-reported doping use behaviour across NS users and non-users. In sum, doping use was three and a half times more prevalent in NS users than non-users.

This finding was accompanied by significant differences in doping attitudes, norms and beliefs. So the researc offers support for the gateway hypothesis: athletes who engage in legal performance enhancement practices appear to embody an ‘at risk’ group for transition towards doping. So education should be appropriately targeted.

Funded by WADA, a current study examines the influence of information about the health consequence son the likelihood of steroid use in adolescent athletes. The data collection phase of this international research project (involving colleagues in the UK, US and Australia) is underway. When it is completed the study findings will be widely disseminated by WADA and the researchers’ individual networks.

Similarly, Dr Backhouse is currently collaborating with researchers in the UK and Hungary on another WADA-funded project that examines the markers of transition phases in assisted performance enhancement in emerging young athletes. 

Doping scandals continue to feature in the media and this issue will remain a plague in sport. A growing acknowledgement that the current detection-based deterrence approaches to anti-doping (testing and sanctions) are not effective means that prevention education will remain the long-term solution in the pursuit of doping-free sport.

While it will take many years to build a strong evidence base relating to all aspects of anti-doping education and the respective target populations that it should reach, the research team in the Carnegie Research Institute is committed to pursuing this line of investigation and providing policy direction and support.

Read about a new initiative, involving a red duck named Squeaky, which is providing positive reinforcement for drug-free athletes at this year's Olympic Games.