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Is the anti-doping enterprise legitimate?

Press release   •   Feb 12, 2019 08:00 UTC

“Elite athletes support the anti-doping enterprise, but it is seen as inefficient and unfair in its current form,” says Anna Qvarfordt, researcher in sport and health sciences.

Anna has explored opinions and experiences of elite athletes within four different federations: the International Association of Athletics Federations, the International Ski Federation the International Basketball Federation and the International Volleyball Federation.

In a questionnaire, she asked 261 top athletes from 51 different countries from the four federations. She then selected 13 athletes, who represented five continents, for interviews.

The practical procedures on a daily basis for the athletes are quite comprehensive, she points out. One example is the reports of their whereabouts; they need to provide information about their location during an hour of their choice everyday all year around.

“You need to provide this information three months in advance, and if you change your routines, for example by visiting your aunt, you need to go in and make changes. It is obvious that this is quite far-reaching.”

Doping controls means that you may be subject to tests at any time in any place, not just during competitions but also at home, and Anna sees this as potentially intrusive, as a violation of your integrity.

“You are taken into the bathroom and someone, probably of the same gender as you, goes in there with you, then you will have to undress to leave the urine sample while being watched.”

In the biological passports that are being developed right now, the athletes’ biological parameters are registered. Possibly, this is also important in relation to integrity, because in health care, for example, one is not allowed to register individuals’ results in various tests without strict adherence to rules and regulations.

“They have also started something that they call intelligence. In this manner, a discourse of crime is created, where athletes are seen as potential criminals.

You want to do the right thing

Anna says that athletes see the anti-doping enterprise as legitimate, and they are generally compliant and strive to do the right thing. Some athletes even set up their own anti-doping educational programmes for young athletes.

“They are very conscientious and want to stop doping. At the same time, the fact that not everyone is altogether positive about everything that is going on may risk the legitimacy of the anti-doping enterprise.

Above all, her study shows that athletes find the enterprise inefficient and they also believe that athletes can get away with doping. Another clear result in her study is that athletes do not find that standards are equal in a worldwide perspective.

Different worlds

Anna came to understand that there are different worlds, and that the Western world has been the model in the development of anti-doping systems. One has failed to take into account that preconditions are not the same in all parts of the world.

Some athletes, above all in the Western world, informed her that they for instance have staff who provide a list of addresses where they will stay, listing the name of hotels together with times and dates to make the reporting on their whereabouts less time-consuming. But there are athletes from other parts of the world who may say, “Ok, but where I live, we don’t even have street addresses. I live in the village beyond the mountain.”

Someone else is in control

Some athletes experience a lack of control, as someone else is in charge of what they eat. It could be a coach, or a manager, who is in charge, but, in the end, it is the athlete who will be punished.

“We will be given pills that we do not know the ingredients of, but if we question such practices our coach will say that we will be excluded from the team.”

The Anti-Doping Code works on the principle of Strict Liability, which means that you do not need to have intended to cheat to be convicted of doping. Finding a substance in your body is evidence enough and you will be held responsible and convicted no matter what.

“The reason for this principle is that athletes otherwise could blame physicians or other member of staff. However, this rule has been debated very much, and in the light of my studies, it needs to be reviewed.”

Protect the existing legitimacy

Anna argues that when developing policies, you need to involve athletes in a better way by taking their views into account and also the consequences the policy will have at their level.

“Anti-doping procedures have to be carried out in a way that athletes feel is reasonable and right in relation to costs.”

She sees a risk for a snowball effect if more people start to mistrust the system or start thinking that “if dopers can get away with it, why should I follow the rules.”

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Anna Qvarfordt defended her doctoral dissertation "Anti-doping – a legitimate effort? Elite athletes' perspectives on policy and practice". on 8 February at the University of Gävle.

External examiner: Professor Sigmund Loland, Seksjon for kultur og samfunn, Norges Idrettshøgskole.

Principal supervisor: Professor Nader Ahmadi, University of Gävle.

Supervisors: Senior Lecturer David Hoff, Lund University, and Senior Lecturer Åsa Bäckström, Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences

Examining committee:

  • Professor Peter Öberg, University of Gävle
  • Reader Natalie Barker-Ruchti, University of Gothenburg.
  • Professor emeritus Johnny Nilsson, Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences


For more information, please contact:
Anna Qvarfordt, senior lecturer in sport and health sciences. University of Gävle
Phone: 076-765 75 65
Email: anna.qvarfordt@hig.se


Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo: Marie Hägg

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