In the UK, the organisation responsible for protecting sport from doping is UK Anti-Doping (UKAD). This body tries to maintain a clean image of sport through a scheme called ‘100% me’ – the idea of success being down purely to athlete’s hard work. To deliver this vision, UKAD works with National Governing Bodies, which administer anti-doping programmes for each sport through accredited coaches who educate athletes at all stages of their careers.
But experts say there is a problem in the system – not enough education about doping at the grassroots level.
“A lot of the time, unless young athletes are actually reaching certain performance levels they won’t ever receive any anti-doping education. A lot of sports governing bodies take it upon themselves to wait for UK Anti-Doping to develop programmes, but these programmes are few and far between,” says Dr Lisa Whitaker, a researcher from Leeds Metropolitan University.
In her research assessing why athletes consider taking prohibited substances, Dr Whitaker found that doping is more prevalent at the sub-elite level where athletes are striving to make the transition into elite sport.
“Without education and knowing how to deal with things like suffering an injury, having pressure to perform on you and losing sponsors, athletes are going to be more vulnerable to taking the quick fixes and going down the drugs route,” adds Dr Whitaker.
Last year, more than 3,500 athletes from around the world were tested positive for the use of banned substances. Almost a tenth of those came in athletics, while in cycling, each year from 1968 until 2012, on average, one in every three cyclists was found to be using performance-enhancing drugs during the Tour de France race.
Earlier this year, speaking to talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong admitted he had taken numerous banned substances during his career without which his impressive feats, which include seven Tour de France titles, would not have been possible.
“When you look at people who are aspiring to be great in sport and who are desperate to be as good as they possibly can be, they will often be tempted to think about illegal methods to enhance their performance,” says professor John Brewer of University of Bedfordshire, a board member for UKAD, who claims doping is often triggered by athletes’ big ambitions.
“It starts particularly with people whose aspirations are greater than their technical and genetic ability. They tried competing fairly and legally, and they realised the rewards of getting to the very top. They can be tempted to take illegal measures such as banned substances to enhance their performance to get to the very top,” adds professor Brewer, who also stresses the important role coaches play in the anti-doping education process.
One coach who shares the responsibility and provides information about doping is Russell Jolley, owner of The Conditioning Centre in Poole, who has worked with hundreds of local and national athletes.
“I’m not going to sit down and have a workshop, but in conversation I’m going to talk about doping issues with them and ensure that my athletes know what’s good and what’s bad, where they can get good supplements from that are clean and have been tested. I think it’s quite an important part of my job,” says Jolley, who admits that even with the hard work he puts in, awareness among athletes is still a problem.
“I don’t think there’s enough anti-doping education because you talk to a lot of people and they have no idea about the types of banned substances or the dangers of doping.”
At the grassroots level, some evidence of UKAD’s work is noticeable. 2000 school-based athletes attended anti-doping education workshops at this year’s UK School Games. A further 2000 received information leaflets through the newly launched parents and carers scheme. What is more, the inadvertent doping has fallen from eleven cases last year to none so far this year.
But Amanda Batt, Head of Education at UKAD, claims there is a lot more that can be done to educate young athletes with help from other parties.
“Our work is never going to be done because there is always more athletes to educate and there will always be dopers to catch and prosecute,” she says.
“Not just the National Governing Bodies, but ourselves at UKAD, the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympic Association, schools, parents, universities, the English Institute of Sport, everyone that has a responsibility or a love for sport has a role to play.”