In force Publication date 30 Nov 16

Analysis of multilevel factors and transitions influencing athletes' drug-taking behavior

Principal investigator
P. Wylleman
K. De Brandt
N. Rosier
N. Van Rossem
J. Kegelaers
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Year approved
International-level, Elite, High Performance

Project description


The qualitative three-stage study uses a unique approach to anti-doping research, i.e., a combination of the Holistic Athletic Career model and the Push/Pull framework, to characterize the factors that incentivize and disincentivize athletes from doping. The researchers have identified the role of the moment in the athlete’s career as one of the crucial factors in their decision to resort to using prohibited substances. They have underscored the role of accounting for that when planning education programs and proposed a shift from punishment to prevention, as they have found the former to be an inefficient strategy in the fight against doping.


The study follows a cross-sectional research design. The researchers carried out a three-stage qualitative examination of forty-six (46) athletes through different methods, i.e., interviews and focus groups considering the perspectives of thirty-six (36) Dutch-speaking former elite athletes from Belgium, five (5) elite coaches, four (4) experts in doping and three (3) self-admitted doping users, as well as case studies of athletes that were previously accused of doping. Using the Holistic Athletic Career model and the Push/Pull framework, they investigated the role of athletes’ influences, accentuating different stages of their careers, and risk factors at the critical points of their professional path. Then, they created a profile of athletes at risk of doping. 


The study found both stimuli to dope and considerations that discouraged athletes from resorting to the use of prohibited substances. Those included both present-day and prospective risks and benefits, i.e., athletic, financial, psychological, psychosocial, and those related to policies. The researchers also found a link between the decision to dope and the point of an athlete’s career. They recommended that education programs take that into consideration and accentuated the need for prevention, given that punitive approaches are said to be ineffective in deterring athletes from doping.

Significance for Clean Sport

The study provides a comprehensive account of the factors that contribute to the athlete’s decision to dope or not to dope; therefore, it can be used to refine anti-doping strategies and create new ones that underscore prevention. It can also be used to plan education programs that help athletes manage the expectations of what doping does. 

Related Publications

Incentives and deterrents for drug-taking behaviour in elite sports: a holistic and developmental approach


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