To dope or not to dope: Elite athletes’ perceptions of dopingdeterrents and incentives

To dope or not to dope : Elite athletes’ perceptions of dopingdeterrents and incentives / Marie Overbye, Mette Lykke Knudsen, Gertrud Pfister. - (Performance Enhancement & Health 2 (2013) 3 (September); p. 119-134)

  • DOI: 10.1016/j.peh.2013.07.001



This study aims to examine the circumstances which athletes say affect their (hypothetical) considerations of whether to dope or not and explore the differences between athletes of different gender, age and sport type.


645 elite athletes (mean age: 22.12; response rate: 43%) representing 40 sports completed a web-based questionnaire. Participants were asked to imagine themselves in a situation in which they had to decide whether to dope or not to dope and then evaluate how different circumstances would affect their decisions.


Multiple circumstances had an effect on athletes’ hypothetical decisions. The most effective deterrents were related to legal and social sanctions, side-effects and moral considerations. Female athletes and younger athletes evaluated more reasons as deterrents than older, male athletes. When confronted with incentives to dope, the type of sport was often a more decisive factor. Top incentives were related to qualified medical assistance, improved health or faster recovery from injury, the low risk of being caught and the threat posed to an elite career.


Our results reveal that numerous circumstances affect athletes’ thoughts on doping and athletes of different gender, age and sport type reacted differently to a variety of circumstances that may potentially deter or trigger doping. Particularly notable findings were the potential role of doctors in athletes’ doping and that the current punitive anti-doping approach seems to deter athletes, although the fear of social sanctions was almost as great a deterrent.


Anti-doping prevention strategies should be diversified to target specific groups of athletes.

KeywordsAnti-doping policyDopingElite athletesGenderSports medicine

Original document


Research / Study
5 August 2013
Knudsen, Mette Lykke
Overbye, Marie
Pfister, Gertrud
United Kingdom
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Københavns Universitet - University of Copenhagen (UCPH)
University of Stirling
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Scientific article
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Pdf file
Date generated
30 August 2021
Date of last modification
1 September 2021
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