Why did they do it? Frank discussions with former Tunisian athletes who have engaged in doping

Fethi Taktak, Ines Taktak, Roy J. Shephard


Background. Pressures to use illegal drugs are particularly strong in developing countries, where coaches from Eastern Europe work on short-term contracts, and athletic success seems vital to their continuing careers,

Purpose. Anti-doping agencies seem to be fighting a losing battle. Can their task be helped by studying athlete motivations?

Methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted on 6 high-level Tunisian competitors in individual sports; all admitted to doping.

Results. Some athletes doped themselves, but others were victims of more sophisticated manipulation by coaches, physicians and officials. Competitors argued that doping technology had outpaced control procedures, so that they and their families would be denied the financial rewards of success unless they became involved in doping. Money was more important than a medal to those emerging from an impoverished society. Overseas travel gave opportunity to watch international rivals engage in illicit practices and provided new access to doping agents. Behaviour was constrained more by the high cost of doping than by ethical considerations. If caught, previous adulation as a "super-athlete" outweighed subsequent shame. Those who resisted doping were robbed of camaraderie, and developed a strong antipathy to those cheating them out of medals.

Conclusions. New approaches to doping control could include the lifetime debarring of physicians and coaches convicted of doping, contracts requiring the payment of punitive damages to sponsors by the athletes involved, and reducing the pressure to "win" from the earliest ages of sport instruction.


Attitudes; Doping control; Motivation; Prevention.

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ISSN: 19206216