WADA Publishes Anti-Doping Research Project of Current Social Science Literature

Research Project Highlights:

  • Social Science Research in the area of Anti-Doping has increased dramatically in the last ten years
  • A focus on detection-deterrence methods limits the effectiveness of anti-doping programs
  • Athletes and athlete support personnel in general, have received little formal anti-doping education. As a result, this leaves these populations more vulnerable and susceptible to doping

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is pleased to publish a Research Project, which it commissioned titled “Social psychology of doping in sport: a mixed studies narrative synthesis”. The Project was conducted by Professor Susan Backhouse and her research team at Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom (UK); and, follows on from a 2007 research project led by the same researcher.

“WADA is pleased to assert, as supported by this Research Project, that society’s understanding of the behavior of doping and clean sport has grown considerably in the last decade,” said Rob Koehler, Deputy Director General, WADA. “We now have a clearer picture of what are the most effective approaches to tackling doping, even though there is still a lack of research in the area of evaluation of education interventions,” Koehler continued. “WADA and its partner organisations are committed to devoting more human and financial resources towards values-based education in order to enhance the effectiveness of the global anti-doping program.”

Encouragingly, the Project shows that social science research in the area of anti-doping has exponentially increased since 2007, with an average of 27 peer reviewed papers being published every year. This growth in the body of knowledge greatly adds to our understanding of doping in sport.

The findings of the Project provide weight to what is already known. For example, research continues to reinforce the limitations of an anti-doping model that only focuses on detection-deterrence. Consequently, prevention of doping through education needs to be more prominent within the system and an integral part of all anti-doping efforts. This means a focus on teaching values, which strengthens athletes’ and their support personnel’s ethical decision-making ability throughout their sporting careers.

A failure to act to address the inherent limitations of current anti-doping policy and practice could further extend the legitimacy crisis where athletes and other stakeholders within the sport environment begin to question the merits of the testing system and the rules that govern them. If this is combined with a perception of a low detection rate, this can lead athletes to be more vulnerable and susceptible to doping or disenfranchisement.

The Project also highlights that athletes and athlete support personnel have received little by way of formal anti-doping education. This is particularly worrying with coaches and parents, as they are the primary sources of information for athletes and can easily lead them to inadvertent doping. The internet and media are also prominent sources of information for athletes, which highlights the need for anti-doping organizations to engage with these platforms to ensure correct and accurate messages are being communicated.

What the Project demonstrates most of all is that doping is a very complex behavior that will not be solved by simple solutions. Professor Susan Backhouse emphasizes that “there is an urgent need to shift focus from individual athletes and the ‘fix the bad apple’ narrative to concurrently promote strategies addressing individual, social and environmental factors to prevent doping in sport. Adopting a systems perspective, the priority will be to foster collaboration across sport so that we address multiple levels of influence. Additionally, we cannot afford to ignore the culture of sport and the habitats that athletes occupy as they shape and define their behavior. Therefore, we need to encourage multi-agency working to ensure that sport prioritizes athlete health and well-being.”

Although there has been an obvious growth in the research field over the Project period, many gaps and uncertainties remain. Specifically there is a need for:

  • Greater emphasis on program interventions and more understanding of their design, delivery and evaluation. This requires better partnerships between researchers and practitioners.
  • An international consensus on research priorities in anti-doping.
  • More longitudinal research with experimental designs, which requires more investment.
  • Greater collaboration across disciplines and countries.

For a full copy of the Research Project Report, please click on the following link;


WADA would also like to draw attention to other important research projects that have been completed in the last year under WADA’s Social Science Research Program;

Bujon – Intensive Sport During Adolescence: Learning About Pain (French only)

This project examines the framing of the concept of pain by the athlete’s entourage (concealment and management of it) and how it can lead to doping practices.  Use among athletes of pain relieving substances and analgesic medications often goes unnoticed and increases over the course of an athlete’s career. This increased use of pain medications is influenced by normative standards in sport culture, and also leads to young athletes refusing to rest injuries for the medically recommended period of time.

Corrion – Say No to Doping: History and how to develop life skills in elite athletes (French only)

This project investigates how self-regulatory mechanisms and psychosocial skills can be transferable and help athletes be empowered to say no to doping in vulnerable situations. Self-regulation of emotions and reaction to social pressure were shown to be important protective factors regarding doping in athletes. Most importantly, these lifestyle skills can be trained and developed in everyday situations and ultimately transferable to a sport setting.

Kamenju – Awareness, Perception and Attitude to Performance-Enhancing Drugs and Substance Use among Athletes in Teacher Training Colleges in Kenya

The purpose of this study was to establish the awareness, perception and attitude to doping and performance enhancing substance use in sports among teacher trainee athletes participating in national ballgames and track and field athletics competitions. Target population comprised of male and female athletes in ballgames and track and field athletics. Descriptive statistics are provided for all these constructs and provides a baseline on which to expand to other sport related populations in Kenya.

Kavussanu - A Cross-Cultural Approach to a Cross-Cultural Issue: Psychosocial Factors and Doping in Young Athletes

This project investigates motivation and morality in team sport in the UK, Denmark and Greece and how it relates to doping intentions. Results showed that players who had a weak moral identity and perceived a performance motivational climate that condoned doping, were more likely to report the intention to use banned substances to enhance performance and speed up recovery from injury. The project also examined the relationship between ego orientation, moral disengagement and anticipated guilt on doping intentions.

Wylleman – A lifespan and holistic approach to the influence of career transitions on athletes drug-taking behaviors

The study looks to identify key decision making factors that can lead an athlete to dope or stay clean at critical points in their athletic career. It uses the Holistic Athletic Career (HAC) model and the Push Pull Anti-push Anti-pull framework to illustrate clearly, what influences athletes doping through different developmental levels (athletic, psychological, social, academic and financial) along the pathway of their career.

For more information please consult the Social Science Research section of the WADA website.


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Ben Nichols, Senior Manager, Media Relations and Communications
Phone: + 1-514-904-8225

Maggie Durand, Coordinator, Media Relations and Communications
Phone: + 1-514-904-8225