In force

Death for performance: What would athletes trade-off for success?

Principal investigator
J. Connor
J. Woolf
J. Mazanov
University of New South Wales
Year approved
Attitudes toward doping, International-level, Elite, High Performance

Project description


The study sought to evaluate the accuracy of the Goldman Dilemma, i.e., a Faustian-style deal in which an athlete is willing to die from taking a substance in five years’ time if that equates to their Olympic success. The findings of the study refute this concept, suggesting that only two out of two hundred and twelve athletes asked by the authors were willing to take the bargain, whereas for many others, the comprehension of the situation was much more complex. The researchers propose that the original study that investigated the Goldman Dilemma should not be considered valid in  informing education programs and that the athletes’ understanding of doping-related harm is one of the factors contributing to a much lower tolerance of doping behaviours in the sample. They also recommend considering the athletes’ individual comprehension of doping in designing education programs as well as conceptualizing the profile of an athlete willing to take the deal in more complicated scenarios. 


The objective of the study was to advance the state of knowledge on the Goldman Dilemma through administering a questionnaire to a sample of two hundred and twelve (212) athletes, asking them about the probability of doping in a set of hypothetical situations. Then, a sample of thirty (30) athletes was interviewed to comprehend their perception of doping.


The findings show that only two (2) out of two hundred and twelve (212) athletes would take the bargain offered by the Goldman Dilemma as presented in the original study (i.e., taking a substance that guarantees Olympic success but also death in five years’ time). This number rose to twenty-five (25) when no physical consequences, including death, were associated with doping. Thirteen (13) participants responded that they would dope if the substance was legal, regardless of dying within the five-year time frame. This research, therefore, contradicts the initial study which indicated that half of elite athlete would accept the deal, suggesting that the difference is due to methodological issues of the original study and higher levels of conscience of doping-related harm among contemporary athletes.


The study shows that the commonly accepted belief that half of elite athletes are willing to take the bargain offered by the Goldman Dilemma is not reflective of the reality and should not inform strategies to combat or prevent doping. The researchers affirm that the athletes’ understanding of doping is more complex and that the education programs should consider the athletes’ self-understanding of their attitude to doping, their careers, and their future. Lastly, the study identifies that some athletes are not receptive to current anti-doping education, having expressed willingness to dope despite the illegality of the substances or the adverse effects on health, paving the way for further exploration. 

Related Publications

Would they dope? Revisiting the Goldman dilemma

The Goldman Dilemma is dead: what elite athletes really think about doping, winning, and death

How athletes conceptualise doping, winning, and consequences: insights from using the cognitive interviewing technique with the Goldman dilemma


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