The largest survey ever conducted into the doping practices of recreational athletes in Europe has revealed that the prevalence in the use of banned substances is lower than had been previously thought. The results were announced at the 5th annual meeting of the FORUM for anti-doping in recreational sport (FAIR+) which is an Erasmus+ European Commission co-funded action. Prof. Dr. Werner Pitsch and Dr. Monika Frenger (Saarland University and the European Institute for Socioeconomy) together with Prof. Ask Vest Christensen (Aarhus University), and Dr. Andrea Chirico (Sapienza University Rome), developed the survey which was conducted during the first half of 2021.
Over 7,000 valid anonymous replies were collated, and the survey was based on the Randomized Response Technique (RRT) method. Roughly three times the number of men replied compared to women, but there was a good age range distribution from 15–54-year-olds and approximately 5% were aged 55+ years. The survey primarily focussed on 8 European countries (CY, DE, DK, EL, ES, IT, NL, NO), although some other athletes from different countries also completed the survey. More than 200 different sports were identified by the respondents who could chose up to 4 different sports that they played or took part in. The most popular sports in descending order were jogging/running, cycling, swimming, fitness, and football (soccer).
Prof. Werner Pitsch said that “the distribution by age, sex, gender, and sport shows that our sample closely represented the profile of adult recreational athletes. Differences between the sample and the population were corrected by appropriate statistical procedures that made sure the results were valid for the players and recreational athletes in the participating countries.”
Prof. Pitsch explained that the results confidently showed that 91% of athletes did not take a banned substance to improve their performance whilst less than 0.5% positively replied that they did use a banned substance. The other 8.5% could not be fully verified either way.
One of the most notable outcomes was the finding that over 10% of the respondents used ‘over-the-counter’ medication to improve their performance. These medications included, for example, pain killers, mood enhancers, caffeine, and other stimulating drugs. The findings were presented at the FORUM which took place on Wednesday 10th November in Brussels and virtually with over a hundred delegates from across Europe and around the world participating. The FORUM has become an important event for stakeholders with an interest in anti-doping, and the survey results will help to inform future policy development.
The convenor of the FORUM, Prof. Michael McNamee (KU Leuven / Swansea University), commented that “the results raise questions about the role of doping and anti-doping measures as an issue of public health and not merely for sport. They support the move toward greater co-operation between sport and health ministries and organisations in policy and practice, in order to educate and regulate all athletes towards healthy sport participation.”
Data from the survey is still being analysed with further results and conclusions to be published in an academic paper in 2022. The 6th and final FORUM will take place in Brussels in November 2022 where a further summary will be given together with guidance on effective educational programmes in anti-doping aimed at coaches, trainers, and instructors in recreational sport.
The FAIR+ project is coordinated by EuropeActive and also includes partners from Cyprus Anti-Doping Authority, Doping Authority Netherlands, Anti-Doping Norway, and TAFISA the Association for International Sport for All.
Further information on the FAIR+ project can be found at https://www.europeactive.eu/fair-project. The 5th annual FORUM was recorded and link for this will shortly be available on the project website.