Doping in Sport as Deviant Behavior and its Social Control

Günther Lüschen. Handbook of Sports Studies. Editor: Jay Coakley & Eric Dunning. 2000. Sage Publishing.

Doping is the use of artificial substances or methods ‘foreign to the body’ to enhance physical performance. This is a definition that in variant forms is found in announcements of the International and United States Olympic Committees (IOC and USOC), and a number of other national sport organizations and sport federations. It is built on a causal model that defines a stimulus (artificial substance) and an effect (enhancement of performance).

The Social Structure of Doping

A List of Doping Substances, References to Methods and Underlying Models

The range of doping substances is quite wide and includes stimulants as well as muscle-building steroids. In more systematic detail the most common doping substances and their uses are as follows (Hollmann, 1996; Wadler and Hainline, 1989).

  • Anabolic steroids were originally developed at the Medical School of the University of Rochester in order to strengthen muscle tissue in old age, and were widely used in the Second World War. They are now being used to enhance muscle build and power. As testosterone, steroids are naturally found in the human body, and in its many forms they have muscle-building and masculinizing effects. They also enhance aggressiveness, well-being and sexual prowess. Side-effects are considered problematic, although the full range of side-effects is not yet known.
  • Human growth hormones are used with the widespread belief that they are beneficial for building certain muscle groups; in a recently occurring form like IGF1 (Insulin Growth Factor 1) they can also not be detected by biomedical tests. However, effects are not clear and research is inconclusive. What was found were discrepant side-effects in body build among children.
  • Amphetamines in sport help endurance and assist in overcoming fatigue, while their clinical use is increasingly narrow. They were used widely in the Second World War as part of the so-called ‘pilot’s chocolate.’ As they have to be administered at competitions for immediate effects their detection is easy, and with increased biomedical testing at sport events their use has strongly declined. Moreover, side-effects are widely known and even after prolonged use can result in dizziness, tremor, hallucination, etc. allowing their detection by outsiders as well.
  • Cocaine, a doping substance with a long history, supposedly enhances muscle strength for up to three hours, as a well-known test by Freud demonstrated in 1884. It was widely used among NFL football players in the 1980s and among tennis players to combat fatigue, although research about its effects is inconclusive. In terms of side-effects cocaine is dangerous and, with consequences like cardiac arrest, even life-threatening.
  • Ephedrine, phenyle and associate substances are often used in sports, yet their effects on performance are ambiguous. Their side-effects are many, among them nervousness, agitation, confusion and stroke.
  • Caffeine has some low-level effects on short-range endurance activities and somewhat stronger ones on long-range activities. Among its side-effects are hypertension, delirium, increased cholesterol and even coma and death.
  • Barbiturates and benzodiazepines have some positive effects among athletes for tremor control and for euphoric feelings, yet they have also negative effects on reaction time, cognitive functions and visual skills.

This is an incomplete list and there are a number of other substances that have some popularity in special sports, such as beta-blockers in shooting sports.

These substances supposedly have a direct effect on performance. They are internationally typically classified as doping substances. In the United States, the term ‘doping’ is not widely used and such performance-enhancing substances and their uses are subsumed with other euphoric substances under the general term of drug abuse. Doping substances are thus lumped together with alcohol, nicotine and other substances that have no apparent effect on sport performance. Given their general negative image and levels of heavy abuse, alcohol and nicotine received more attention in the US Congress Hearings of the 1980s (1985, 1988) than doping substances that really had an impact on performance. In so doing, these Hearings, in their efforts to control the whole range of drugs and enlightening substances, defeated the intent to regulate the fairness of competitive sport and root out performance-enhancing substances, let alone address the various specific methods. The 1989 Hearings of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, however, rectified that situation stressing explicitly the use of steroids in American amateur and professional sport (1990).

As concerns substances that have a known effect on performance, these effects, except for steroids, are often lower than anticipated, with many results not proved through proper research. Moreover, side-effects are many and the doping substances mentioned above are life-threatening in quite a few cases. While many sources assume only limited effects of doping for performance enhancement, for example, some American authors estimate performance advantages for steroids to be no higher than 3-5 per cent (Wadler and Hainline, 1989), newer results and systematic observations from former East Germany put the advantage in the case of anabolic steroids for specific disciplines much higher, with performance increases of up to 10 per cent (Berendonk, 1992: 131-93).

As far as the access to substances is concerned, many of them are readily available as ordinary pharmaceutical products and at a low price, while a few such products, like human growth hormones, are more difficult to obtain and thus fetch fairly high prices. There is often debate—and inconclusive evidence in many cases—on the potential effects of the substances, with the listing of products in a generic list. Because of the common usage of some of these products in ordinary medication, an increasingly problematic area is also the issue of wilful versus innocent violation of the doping code; this includes the administration of substances unknown to the athlete and the usage of doping substances as a component of medication to fight an illness or impairment (Young, 1996).

A separate issue is the area of negative doping—that is, administration of substances that impair performance—which was widely known in equestrian sports (Scott, 1968). At times it comes to the attention of the public, when individual athletes state that they are closely guarding their food intake for fear of being secretly administered performance-decreasing substances. No attention is being paid to this phenomenon in official rulings and the extent of such violations is unknown.

As not only pharmaceutical substances were being used to enhance performance but also such methods as blood doping, that is, the withdrawal and later retransfusion of the athlete’s own blood, a reference to methods or procedures was introduced in definitions of doping. There was also debate over the inclusion of psychological methods such as hypnosis in the list of illegal practices, adding to the difficulties of definition and enforcement. Here and for psychology in particular the fine line between good coaching and illegal procedure is demonstrated most aptly by Stemme and Reinhardt (1988), in what they call psychological ‘Super-Training.’ For all practical purposes, it uses common insights and knowledge from psychology in athletic coaching.

When reference to methods was introduced into the definition of doping, the strictly causal model as part of the definition was called into question. When the typical time-lag in the inclusion of specific substances into respective lists was debated and the use of generic or groups of generic products rather than brand names was suggested, the way was already prepared for reference to a new model of scientific reasoning. Also, illegal procedures and concern over psychological means and methods such as hypnosis suggested an enlargement of the definition; thus, statements like ‘intent to enhance performance’ appeared. For quite a while in the 1980s this led to a definitional debate in the United States and elswhere resulting in formulations that mentioned ‘sole intent’ and a normative formulation such as ‘unfair manner’ (USOC, 1989). Not only did this open up the definition of doping beyond material substances, it also meant moving over into a model of teleology in scientific terms. Yet, it made testing and conviction of offenders also more difficult. Thus, after a ‘revisionist interim’ there has been for mainly practical purposes of biomedical control a move back to a predominantly causal model. Thus, the list of forbidden substances that the IOC Commission regularly publishes is again the sole basis for regulation and control, as the USOC Guide to Prohibited Substances and Methods (March 1996) shows. Of course, the list was and is never up to date and was revised from time to time since its first publication in 1967, when new products were appearing or new evidence was forthcoming. Thus, steroids were only listed from 1975 onwards, the natural steroid-component testosterone was not listed before 1982 and blood doping was added as late as 1984. Of course, the debate around and the inclusion of intent with an implicit teleological model had also suggested that an exclusive reliance on a causal model was not enough, regardless of the fact that it was needed for matters of prosecution and proof.

The Emergence of Doping in Sport

Use of doping substances is not new. The Greek physician Galenos (130-200 CE), an important forerunner of modern medicine and a sports’ physician, mentioned the use of substances to enhance performance and there are reports of doping animals since the eighteenth century. In recent times there are numerous reports about incidents where athletes suffered after the use of doping substances; this ranges from the collapse of the American marathon runner Thomas Hicks in the 1904 St Louis Olympics, the death of the Danish cyclist Jensen in the 1960 Rome Olympics to the death of the British cyclist Simpson in the 1967 Tour de France.

In the 1950s Dianabol, a steroid component, was widely used among American and Soviet athletes. The 1960 Rome Olympics were thus quite irregular in results, as not all teams were ‘in the know.’ When knowledge, information and supply of steroids changed quite drastically and fast, the subsequent Olympic Games up to the late 1980s were probably as much influenced by illegal use of doping substances as any before and thereafter. Methods of detection were not yet well developed early in this period and thus allowed a fairly wide use.

What is also of genuine interest is the fact that up to a 1974 IOC Commission meeting in Innsbruck, the use of steroid substances was not considered problematic. Even in the late 1970s, the German Sports Medicine Association was still not unanimous in forbidding steroids (Berendonk, 1992: 44-7), taking a clear position only thereafter. Thus, the spectacular convictions and disqualifications of athletes have only occurred since the 1980s, when 19 athletes at the PanAmerican Games in Caracas in 1983 were found in violation of the doping code. This development culminated in the disqualification of the Canadian Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and of the German Katrin Krabbe before the 1992 Barcelona Games.

In the meantime quite a number of biomedical control centers have been established, and it is now possible to monitor top athletes for doping in many countries all year round, in and out of competition. With regard to testing machinery, a whole industry has emerged selling the most modern instruments and, as of 1996, at costs in excess of half a million dollars. However, there seems to be a situation where the controllers and their methods continually lag behind the newest inventions and products. Thus, Russian officials at the 1996 Atlanta Games were claiming not to have known the effects of the steroid-component Bromanton, although its effect was well documented in Russian scholarly publications. Moreover, pointing to the fact that this product was not on the IOC list of forbidden substances, the International Court of Arbitration accepted that formal argument and re-established four Russians and one Lithuanian as medal winners at the expense of, among others, a Briton and a North Korean who had supposedly competed fairly.

The reasons behind the more recent high involvement and public concern with doping, including methods of its control, are many:

  • Performance enhancement through doping procedures has become widely known and acknowledged among athletes and their supporting cast.
  • At a time of ever smaller differences in performance outcome even a small enhancement through illegal means may result in a win and thus justify the use of and rationalize doping.
  • The material profits from sport contests have risen exponentially for individual athletes, in particular after professionals were allowed to enter the Olympic Games and when the latter were increasingly commercialized.
  • Pharmaceutical products have become available on a much broader scale, and it appears that the pharmaceutical industry or respective labs are capable of developing ever more refined products.
  • Opinion expressed in the media and common public opinion have taken note of the illegality of doping procedures, thus suggesting and demanding increased and more efficient controls.
  • Methods of control by biomedical tests and respective machinery have become more sophisticated and effective, thus allowing more convictions.

A major influence in raising awareness about doping and its subsequent control has occurred through the European Community (EC) since 1963 and the moves of the French government, which introduced a law against doping in 1965 (Alaphilippe, 1977; Hallouin and Jeannot-Pagès, 1990). Of course, these moves were preceded by the spectacular and widely reported death of Jensen, and internally in sport by the widespread use of Dianabol in international competition since the late 1950s. The expansion of doping, paralleled by public concern, occurred at an ever-higher level into the 1980s, when more effective controls emerged. One should also observe that medical experts gradually changed their position on steroids and eventually, from 1980, came out more forcefully against doping and anabolic steroids in particular.

The controls and convictions at the 1983 PanAmerican Games in Caracas did mark a turning point (Lüschen, 1984); not to the degree, of course, that there was no more use of doping substances and methods, but rather, the high amount of uncontrolled usage was no longer possible. Of course, control from now on had a double meaning. Control meant, on the one hand, the possibility of detection through biomedical tests; but control on the side of doping athletes and their cast also meant discontinuing doping before an upcoming meet so a substance could no longer be detected. It is only recently that testing methods have been refined that allow the detection of illegal substances long after their administration. Even so, substances are consistently being generated that at any given moment cannot be detected.

Considering the problems of definition, the fact that biomedical doping control must be incomplete, and the existence of a wide-ranging culture of experts and athletes with factions for and against doping, there are major sociological problems to be addressed concerning doping.

  • The implied model in the definition of doping is a problem for sociology of knowledge.
  • Sociology identifies doping as deviant behavior with a broader sense of control that is based on a teleological model, in sociology proper referred to as social control.
  • As an important basis and tool for doping policy, sociology through proper research has to address the problem of the magnitude and social organization of doping.

Of these three major issues, there is empirical information available only for the last one, pertaining to the magnitude and some incidental structural information on doping. The two former sociological issues can, so far, be discussed on theoretical grounds only.

Some Further Observations on Definitions and the Structure of Doping

Roger Caillois in his classic ‘Structure and classification of games’ (1955) identifies four classes of games in which agon, alea, mimicry and ilinx (vertigo) predominate. As far as sport is concerned, it is normally understood to be agonistic, but it has elements of mimicry and vertigo as well, while alea is out, after the toss of a coin at the beginning of a match has occurred. But the experience of sport is not only that of agon. Sport is to a high degree a game of mimicry and pretence in dress codes as well as in the employment of pretence in strategy and tactic. Such quality condones the administration of doping. For the problem of doping, vertigo is, however, of major importance. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) has observed the feeling of ‘flow’ as part of specific sport disciplines, and in mountaineering in particular. One might also suggest that the doping experience, where an athlete extends his/her means beyond the initial physical or mental control and capability, contains such an element of flow or vertigo. Caillois himself referred to the use of alcohol as a corrupt or paidiatic form of vertigo. The feeling of getting ‘high’ corresponds to flow, and the use of doping substances and of amphetamines or cocaine in particular means a similar experience. Such correspondent structures denote the kinship between games, sports and doping.

While the biomedical nature of doping has so far been emphasized, the epistemological concerns about the definition as well as the structure of the doping culture at large imply that doping indeed is a sociological problem (Bette and Schimank, 1995). The material substance and its consequence are predominantly biomedical issues, but the structure of its uses is predominantly a question that sociologists have to address.

Bette and Schimank (1995) in an analysis drawing on the systems theory of Luhmann have first and foremost identified the structure of elite sport as the condition under which doping prevails; they make reference to the limitless victory code as well as to political and commercial influences, and society at large. They identify the precarious structures of doping before they advance their analysis to a social critique of doping control. They see the role of sociology essentially in terms of proper diagnosis and enlightenment with, in their opinion, not altogether optimistic prospects. The analysis presented here, in identifying doping as deviant, has its roots in a belief in sociological knowledge and wisdom that allows policy advice for direct social intervention. As part and parcel of society itself, this type of sociology implies a more optimistic prediction for doping in sport than Bette and Schimank are willing to offer.

Doping, Deviance and Social Control

Problems of Deviance, Deviant Behavior, Law and Control

Calling doping deviant is a major point of debate. Doping, according to the basic idea of sport based on equality of chance in competition, has to be understood as being illegal and deviant. Doping is officially defined as illegal and deviant after sport organizations have so identified the practice at variant times since the late 1960s. Its appearance as a wrongful action in codes or court decisions of civil law also identify doping as deviant. But at this point there also appear restrictions.

Doping is not a criminal offence, and thus not part of penal law. Even its inclusion in codes of civil law does not go unchallenged. An athlete can do things to his/her body as he/she likes it; only if there is an effect for somebody else, is there a legal implication. Of course, the latter is a legal area widely uncontested. It came to bear when an American runner sued the IAAF for compensation. It can also be envisioned that fellow competitors that were cheated out of a win could seek compensation through the courts. An indication of concern for the issue is an increased number of legal discussions and analyses pertaining to doping since the early 1960s (Alaphilippe, 1977; Hallouin and Jeannot-Pagès, 1990; Jacobs and Samuels, 1995; Karaquillo, 1994; Schild, 1986; Vieweg, 1991, 1996).

There are no clear indications at this time to what degree the control of doping might indeed become a matter for the legal system. After the French went all out to prosecute violating athletes, they revised their law in 1989 and the most recent developments stress conciliation and arbitration instead of penalizing the athlete (Braillat, 1994; Karaquillo, 1994; Sfeir, 1996). In Germany the civil law case of Krabbe eventually reached the Supreme Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof). There is still legal activity in the United States, but the number of spectacular court cases seems to have declined, in particular after a higher court struck down the ruling of a local court for $20 million compensation against the IAAF.

The issue of deviant behavior and the definition of doping as deviant is at times being challenged on the grounds that more or less everybody does it, that society is lenient towards doping anyway (Vargas, 1994) or that anti-doping positions refer to an antiquated view of sport ethics (König, 1995). Actually, such arguments are based on little empirical evidence and spring from common sense plus a distortion of the theoretical argument. The fact that deviance goes on in society is no reason to call such acts normal and acceptable. Neither law in general is built on such premises nor does the system of sport have to abide by such understanding of violations of rules and principle. Arguments like these do pose a challenge, however, to outline the degree and type of deviance plus its socio-cultural determinants.

The socio-cultural dimension as well as the socio-historical one both suggest a number of structural determinants of doping as deviant behavior. Moreover, sport organizations have taken a clear stance after their earlier reluctance to address the problem; after all, the use of doping substances severely alters a fair outcome of sport competitions. Thus, the German Track Association (DLV) declared a number of records invalid; and more or less all national and international sport federations and disciplines are now addressing the problem and establishing rules for doping control. At the same time, it is obvious that the present situation in doping control offers a far from sufficient degree of standardization (Jacobs and Samuels, 1995). Reasons for the inconsistencies are many, ranging from the early development of doping controls to the variety of legal interpretations within countries. Moreover, there is a wide variety of intercultural acceptance or rejection as far as the use of euphoric substances is concerned. Consequently, the IOC Doping Commission finds itself cast into the role of legal originator and major arbitrator.

At least for consistency it can be stated so far: The rules of the IOC Commission clearly establish doping as deviant behavior (de Merode, 1996), and there are no known cases of sport federations that accept doping as proper and within the range of normality. Bodybuilding may be the exception, identifying itself in this regard as an activity outside of the institution of sport. It is widely known that there are variances in enforcement and engagement in doping among individual sport disciplines; still, the higher number of violations in disciplines such as cycling or weightlifting does not make doping practices in these sports legal and normal either.

Deviance Theory and the Structure of Doping Subcultures

There are essentially two theoretical arguments that explain the emergence of doping on a broad scale in modern society and sport. Durkheim’s theory of anomie (1893) would explain it as a reflection of discrepant norms in society. Merton’s theory (1968) would rather explain it as a result of the high demands, motivations and rewards in top athletics that would test the limits of performance and thus suggest the use of illegal means. Merton’s theory appears to be the more powerful explanation for what happens in modern sport and society. It addresses on a more abstract level the systems analysis of Bette and Schimank (1995), who incorporate a variety of structural conditions in society and within elite sport itself in their analysis of the emergence of doping.

In a more specific approach to deviance, Merton, in his article on ‘Social structure and anomie’ (1968), distinguishes generalized goals and institutionalized means of action. In a systematic distribution of acceptance and/or rejection of these dual patterns he generates four patterns that he labels conformity, ritualism, innovation, retreatism. Of these, innovation is the pattern that is found in doping. It means the acceptance of the generalized goal of high performance in sport while at the same time it rejects the institutionalized means by replacing them with illegal doping. The term ‘innovation’ carries no sense of morality at this point and refers to the illegal behavior of the criminal as well as to the doping of athletes.

From observations of criminal behavior, Sutherland and Cressey (1974) proposed a theory of differential association to explain criminal and deviant behavior. This theory assumes that deviant behavior is and cannot be performed in solitude for a number of reasons. There is the fact of mutual support and (in the case of doping) of supply; moreover, as criminal and deviant behavior require a certain competence and knowledge, there is a need of social learning. Both suggest that doping is an act that is performed as part of a deviant subculture, or by a group of persons that show features of secret societies. Also common experiences show that it is more than the individual athlete who is involved (Berendonk, 1992): there is mutual support and encouragement by a subculture of athletes. It is typical that coaches and physicians are involved; and so is a whole range of suppliers of illegal doping substances or practices. The theory is mainly descriptive, but it certainly suggests quite a number of research questions and interpretive suggestions.

Finally, there are two variants of social control theory. Reckless (1961) distinguishes a theory of inner and outer containment. Inner containment is the process of socialization of the human personality, where an individual via self control or inner containment is aware of what is right or wrong. Outer containment is the set of normative, group, organizational and societal controls, including those of the law. Containment, or its absence, is quite relevant for doping in sport and, in the case of external control by sports organizations, their weakness in this respect may explain part of the present situation.

Social control theory according to Albert K. Cohen (1955) is essentially a matter of subcultures, and in the case of deviance their delinquent norms and morale. Cohen finds in his observation of delinquent boys that there is also an apparent connection with the social class system. Actually, with reference to Robert Merton’s general deviance theory, the stakes and material interests are higher the lower an individual’s position by social class or status. Consequently, the payoff in the case of doping is higher as well; it would explain why members of lower social classes would consequently be more easily enticed to seek success through illegal means. The affiliation of individual sport disciplines to levels of the social stratification system and the related higher occurrence of doping in disciplines like cycling and weightlifting suggest the validity of Cohen’s observations.

Problems of Quasi-legitimacy and Rationalization

The occurrence of doping and weak social controls is not happening without a certain level of legitimacy and condonement. If one disregards the variance in cross-cultural mores and practices, which, with regard to euphoric substances, can be substantial, then in modern societies as a source of quasi-legitimacy for doping in sport the high incidence of medical treatment and medical manipulation in society overall come to mind. Moreover, the culture of medicine that emerged since the nineteenth century parallel to modern sport has generated a whole subculture of sport medicine itself.

Ivan Illich in his publication Medical Nemesis (1976) has referred to this process in modern society as ‘medicalization.’ It refers not only to the emergence of the medical profession but to a process and orientation, where modern man seeks out medical treatment and intervention by drugs for a whole variety of real and supposed ailments. One has to see this also on the background of a lesser trust in God and religion with the emergent belief that mankind through science can interfere in human and societal affairs to a high degree. Among others, death through the merits of modern medicine can supposedly be escaped for longer than ever before. An indication of such expectation and implied reorientation toward medically manipulated health are the enormous costs that modern societies bear without much regret from the general population. With rates of 14 per cent of the GDP in the United States for health expenditures, medical efforts and interventions carry with them a high level of acceptance and legitimacy; and the annual debates concerning high health costs originate rather among politicians and the interests they represent than among the general population Against this background, the use of pharmaceutical products is basically condoned and has a supposed legitimacy, and thus—to an albeit lesser degree—so do doping substances as well.

Medicalization can also be found in sport itself, contributing to the aura of legitimacy of doping practices. Since the early involvements of medicine in sport affairs from Clemens Tissot, Per-Henryk Ling to Emil Du Bois-Reymond and Rudolf von Virchow in the nineteenth century, there has been an increasing interest and engagement of medical practitioners and of medical science in sport and in elite sport in particular. It obviously served both sport and medicine alike. In modern times and at major sports events a major part of the typical supporting cast of a sports team consists of a variety of medical personnel. In terms of treatment and rehabilitation, sports medicine has become a specialty by itself.

Modern highly trained athletes consistently and frequently suffer from a variety of ailments that need a variety of medical interventions. On the one hand, this means that the fine line between medical treatment of an injury, the preparation of proper diets and the administration of an illegal performance-enhancing drug is often difficult to draw. On the other hand, medicalization of the sport system suggests that any means of propping up the human body may be legitimate as well. Analysis of these developments may lead to athletes’ being identified as ‘Mortal Engines’ (Hoberman, 1992).

Of course, at this point, either externally or internally, the issue is not so much legitimization but rationalization. After all, the rules are spelled out quite clearly, there is a list of forbidden substances put out by the IOC plus the open invitation for an athlete to consult with a medical specialist in many countries. Rationalization also occurs, of course, in other ways. Quite typical is the argument or thought that a win is not for oneself but for some other unit—for a club, for a nation to which an athlete belongs. It is an open question to what degree such rationalization is also suggested to an athlete by his or her deviant doping subculture or by the club and team to which he/she belongs. Anyway, psychological displacement appears to be easy and strongly suggests itself when there is an inner conflict via containment or a set of norms and values an athlete was brought up with.

A Descriptive Outline of Social Control

When discussing the issue of doping control, it is first of all the enormous machinery of biomedical controls that comes to mind; it is the system of natural science that is modeled on the principle of causality. Social control actually goes beyond such a model and implies a notion of teleology and intent without excluding the causal model. It is further reaching and recognizes that causal-model controls will all the time be incomplete. In its most general meaning it means ‘the capacity of a society to regulate itself according to desired principles and values’ (Janowitz, 1975). For the problem of doping in sport, it refers not only to external control by society, it means the capacity of organizations and groups as well as their members to regulate their own affairs according to their specific principles and values. With regard to the latter and to the situation of the sporting contest, such control has to refer to the specific rules that govern the event as well as to the basic principles and the morality under which a contest occurs. Thus, it extends on the one hand to the level of society and on the other to the role that an individual is committed to. In a way, social control recognizes the athlete as an autonomous person as well.

A descriptive overview can identify such control on three levels as external macro-level, external meso-level and internal micro-level controls. To a degree they reflect the theory of inner and outer containment.

External Controls on the Macro Level

Beyond the societal context with its system of normative controls that extends into problems of morality there is first and foremost the law that must be considered as an external control of the macro level. It is an interesting question to what degree the law should be involved in the control of doping.

It is not at all certain that a matter like doping, with relatively low concern for society at large, should be a special concern for penal or criminal law. Of course, one might envision that doping violations would hurt moral concerns to such a degree that the law would have to move in to rectify such a situation. Actually, that does not seem to be the case; and the level of supposed legitimacy in a period of medicalization in society makes it unlikely that doping in sport will become a major legal concern of society. On the contrary, should cases of doping in sport clog up courts in the civil law, society might well react by disregarding the issue altogether.

Of course, doping is not only a matter of morality and the law, it may concern the political system beyond the sphere and institution of sport itself. Such is the case in countries like Germany, where the parliament and its respective sport committee have become involved in an anti-doping campaign and the demand for doping control. More recently, public prosecutors have investigated former East German officials and sport executives, claiming that they did physical harm to former athletes of the GDR. Such a move was of course legally prompted, but there was no question that such a pursuit was also politically motivated. In this case the difficulty will not only be to prove that doping occurred without an athlete’s consent, it will also have to show without reasonable doubt that specific doping substances were harmful in their side-effects, or more precisely, were prescribed in a harmful way. As the cases of a number of athletes in Western nations show, they often overloaded themselves when taking doping substances. Such action was seemingly based on the layman’s suggestion that more would produce higher performance.

Unlike German legal officials, representatives of the law in the United States would be much more reluctant to move into the prosecution of athletes or officials. Politial institutions and the federal government since the Nixon Administration have developed a hands-off attitude as far as matters of sport are concerned (Chalip, 1991, 1996). Thus, the campaign seen in the Federal Republic of Germany is less likely to occur in the United States. While France, with its centralized governmental structure, could be expected to show a political involvement in doping affairs as well, it has not shown the same engagement as have German political circles, despite its early involvement in the introduction of anti-doping laws (Hallouin and Jeannot-Pagès, 1990).

External Meso-level Controls

Meso-level controls can be understood as the quasi-legal controls and anti-doping rules of sport organizations and federations from the IOC down to national level and local sport organizations. This includes the whole system of biomedical testing centers that have developed in major sporting nations around the world. The IOC and its special Doping Commission have been involved in the problem of doping for more than 30 years. Despite difficulty of enforcement and periodic inefficiency, the IOC has reclaimed a sense of authority in recent history. In part, the central position of the IOC Commission is the result of a need for clear and consistent rules as well as identification of illegal substances and methods, internationally and among all sport federations.

There is no question, however, and ample evidence exists (Vrijman, 1996), that internationally the variety and inconsistency of doping control is high. So far there is no clear set of rules that is consistent throughout national and international sport federations. Moreover, only recently has a common movement emerged among sport organizations that doping must be controlled by sport itself lest it lose its moral authority and autonomy. In line with the theory of differential association (Sutherland and Cressey, 1974), there is no doubt that sport organizations themselves for long periods of time condoned illegal doping practices. Among others, the Dubin Report has shown this to be true for the Canadian Track Association (1990). Several national sport organizations suggested the same in their lax attitude or even wilfull neglect. The problem of rationalization, discussed in terms of the athlete above, can be equally observed in relation to sport organizations. Doping practices in the American NFL appear to be rampant because of commercial interests, and there is no question that former East German athletes and physicians rationalized their behavior with overriding national interests (Berendonk, 1992).

The most recent past shows a common and rising concern among sport organizations and federations on the international as well as national level to control and root out doping. While there are exceptions to this development, the major problem at this time is rather achieving universal consistency in rules as well as practices. It is not uncommon that federations have explicit rules and yet do not follow them.

On the international scene it should have been a priority to establish first an organization or commission to secure the standardization of doping controls; instead, controlled by legal experts, the International Court of Arbitration in Lausanne was founded before there was any serious attempt at standardizing rules and procedures that would withstand the challenge of legal authorities. Thus, this court will find itself in a position of having to rule specific cases and convictions invalid because regulations are not standard or controls cannot keep up with the most progressive developments in the doping scene. And presently non-observance of rules or inconsistencies among sport organizations and their control commissions are often to be found. Only in 1999, in response to strong public pressure, did the IOC establish a new control commission.

The issue of meso-level controls through sport organizations addresses, in the end, the question of autonomy of sport in controlling its own affairs, and that of doping in particular (Vieweg, 1991). The need to stress and build on such autonomy appears to be strong for a number of reasons. First, and because of the minor concern with doping as an offence in criminal law, there is a need to address doping from within the system; the observation of basic principles in sporting contests, such as equality of chance and fairness, requires sport organizations to react accordingly. Secondly, there is a need for control from within to stop any future major case-loads of doping violations in civil law. It would not be in the best interests of sport and its moral integrity for athletes and sport organizations to routinely settle their grievances over major payments and doping violations in public courts. What is suggested here is not the establishment of quasi-legal suits within sport and its own courts, so much as the prevention of doping violations as a matter of principle to make civil lawsuits obsolete. Conciliation as introduced first in France (Karaquillo, 1994) may be one way to strengthen the autonomy of sport and in turn the moral fiber of the system.

Developments in the near future will show whether the autonomy of sport and the proper enactment of quasi-legal rulings in its own courts and commissions can be established. Commercial interests and those of individual athletes with their supporting cast may well interfere with such institutionalization. Should they succeed, it may well be the beginning of a new era of sport, where elite sport with mainly entertainment functions is clearly separated from the participant sport that could be re-established in such a process, such as the amateur rule or something similar.

Indications are that the inconsistency in meso-level controls is in a period of transition. The rapid advances in medical technology as a basis for the increase of doping practices found the sport scene and its organizations unprepared for control for many years. Instead, the doping subculture corrupted major segments of national and international sport organizations, and that included the Olympic Games up until very recently. External macro-level controls, as well as those in line with the rules of sport as a game and contest, will encourage and should facilitate the development of meso-controls within sport organizations. After all, at the macro level the institution of sport and the sporting contest are models of trust and morality; and the sporting contest itself cannot continue if principles of reciprocity, equality of chance and fairness are not observed. This brings us to discussion of controls at the micro level.

Internal Micro-level Social Controls

As internal micro-level controls one can identify all those structures and processes that occur at the interpersonal or individual level. The latter may be a matter of an individual’s personality and learning experiences—the inner containment dimension. Foremost among micro-level controls are those established during sports contests and in interpersonal or intergroup relations. They pertain to an athlete’s relationship to his or her own team or sport subculture. They also include the relationship to an opponent or an opposing team in a contest.

The moral implications at this level of structure and analysis are overwhelming and it is not only a matter of following the rules of the game or the sport organization. Paramount at this level is what normally will be referred to as fairness. It is a misunderstanding to relate this to altruism and voluntarily giving up part of one’s own gains and rewards. It is a pattern of behavior that is entirely related to the maintenance of the contest, its integrity and the preservation of the opponent, whose destruction would itself destroy the contest and any future encounter. It is a pattern identified within the context of the sporting contest distinguished from cooperation (Lüschen, 1970); it is a form of behavior that Kant observed also for parties at war and that Simmel had in mind when he talked about ‘Vereinheitlichung’ des ‘Kampfspiels’ (this refers to the unifying potential of the contest) (1923: 200), qualifying, however, that in its pure form there are no outside interests.

There is every indication that in elite athletics the individual athlete has and will pursue his or her selfish interests, but only to the degree that the opponent, who is also the future opponent on another occasion, will not be hurt and betrayed. Application of this fine distinction to what happens in the case of doping and the abstention from such and similar behavior, is one of the most powerful reasons why sport and the athlete are cast in a role of important moral agent. There are violations of this principle, there is a high potential for cheating in sport (Lüschen, 1976), but the challenge to the principles of association and fairness posed by such behavior are still a far cry from a situation in sport where fairness has become nonexistent. Durkheim (1887/1993) reminds the social science observer at this point that the existence of rules and norms is actualized through their violation and deviant behavior. It is thus an error to conclude from doping code violations, and those of prominent athletes in particular, that violations are common and widespread.

Social Control, Morale and Periodic Changes

Models of change are typically unidirectional and their authors often proclaim a period of moral and cultural demise. With the obvious onslaught of doping in the 1970s and 1980s this seemed also to be the case for doping and its magnitude. Similarly, there is a widespread feeling about a general moral decay in society, assuming for doping that it is actually proof of a general demise of culture and society. Such models of change as that of Spengler are simple and popular, yet often unwarranted. They indicate a limited understanding of the interdependence of social structure and the character of structural change.

Others have pointed to the fact that there are rather eras of periodic change, and that, for example, an emphasis on formality and society may be followed by periods of informality and community again. The same might be advanced for doping in sport. After a period of heightened consciousness about this phenomenon and increased concern from meso- and macro-level controls, there will be a period of observance of the doping code and of principles of fairness again.

That it is doping which brings issues of morality, fairness and justice to the foreground has to do with the fact that it ultimately corrupts and destroys the core of sport as it is found in the sporting contest. This is no small concern for sport, nor is it for society at large. Hence the emergence of a variety of social controls and public concerns. The issue and sociological study of doping in sport also reveals the degree to which sociology is actually a moral science (Durkheim, 1887/1993).

The Special Case of Legal Control

Legal or quasi-legal control within sport itself can be understood as special forms of external social control. It is an interesting problem by itself that at least since the introduction of special doping laws in France, with a number of other members of the EU with the notable exception of Germany following suit, doping has become a focus of legal discussions all over the world. Within a sporting context only labor disputes in American professional sport have so far received similar attention from the law. This development warrants an analysis all by itself; it may be explained as a consequence of the extension and increased specialization of the legal system as much as it is the result of the increased prevalence of and material damage done through doping in sport. That is to say, in terms of civil law, with increased amounts of money to be earned, both sports organizations and athletes deprived of their renumerations have an interest in rectifying the situation and suing for damages.

The situation is less clear with regard to criminal or penal law. The consequences for society and other parties as well as for the athletes themselves do not suggest the law should follow suit. It is this point of view that made the French retract part of their earlier law of 1965 which criminalized the violating athlete. Indeed, there is a tendency in France now to protect rather than punish an athlete found in violation of the doping code (Alaphilippe, 1988; Breillat, 1994; Sfeir, 1996). In the United States, there is a widespread belief that individual autonomy, so dear in the US Constitution, means that everyone can do to his/her body as he/she likes. Thus, there need not be any legal prohibition on the use of doping substances, and the damage done to others, to a given sport organization or matters of due process—a frequent challenge of athletes against sport authorities—can be handled by civil law.

Court rulings in terms of the privacy principle have been somewhat two-edged. On one hand, the argument has been that nobody under such provision should be exposed to a urine or other tests that violate his/her privacy rights (High Court of Colorado). On the other hand, courts, such as the High Court of California, have ruled that participation in sport is entirely voluntary and that privacy principles are not a concern, such as in open exposure in the locker room; thus, privacy concerns connected to drug testing were declared void. It is such rulings, let alone inconsistencies in legal matters in certain countries, that demonstrate the difficulty in achieving a legally based doping control model around the world. German courts would be less likely to protect individual and privacy rights; courts in dictatorial systems will be even more lenient in approving tests of a supposedly doping athlete.

From Legal Concerns to Stressing the Autonomy of Sport

As legal systems are society-bound, their variance in structure emphasizes the need to place the doping controls within the system of international sport itself. It will, however, be a formidable task to develop such an international quasi-legal system. Moreover, it will not only be a formidable task to set up the rules and norms for the anti-doping code, enforcement of the code will require an even greater effort. This is yet another reason to focus as much on normative and moral controls as on the controls built around a tight model of causality and biomedical testing. Moreover, the general expectation is that through an increased concern for the autonomy of sport internal social controls will also be encouraged that, eventually, will result in a decline of doping.

A much further-reaching proposal to stress the autonomy of sport and of the individual athlete has been developed by Bird and Wagner, with their proposal of a drug-diary (1996). The open listing of substances used will allow inspection, it will severely punish undisclosed doping and it expects, through such a procedure, by stressing the autonomy and self-responsibility of the athlete, a reduced incidence of doping. It is a rational, economically inclined calculation; it tries to avoid disadvantages of the ‘negative list’ and expects, through collegial control among athletes themselves, the development of specific norms and, through such a form of social control, a lesser likelihood of doping overall.

The Extent of Doping in Sport and the State of Research

How much doping is going on in sport at this time nobody knows for sure; neither an exact incidence nor a serious estimate can be provided. That it is happening, and that it has almost all sporting nations and a number of famous athletes involved has been sufficiently documented (Berendonk, 1992: 30-3).

As with all forms of deviant and criminal behavior, this is a familiar situation most succinctly demonstrated by an early research project on criminal behavior in the United States which, according to Wallerstein and Wyle (1947), found 86 per cent of adults admitting that they committed an act of larceny (theft) at least once in their lifetime. What can be concluded for criminal behavior, that less than the total amount of committed crime gets detected, of those detected a considerably lower number go to court, and only a minority of those engaging in such crime are finally convicted, can also as a general tendency be expected for doping in sport. There is now modern technology that allows detection of the use of steroids months after their actual application. Testing throughout the year and unannounced testing is being performed, and all winners are being tested as a routine at major sport events. Thus, observation is probably more stringent now in sport than typically occurs in law enforcement for criminal behavior, yet there is a strong suspicion that the most sophisticated dopers still get away with it and enjoy an illegal advantage over those that have not doped.

Although there is a high level of reliability for the claim that the use of stimulants such as amphetamines has rapidly declined, since these products have to be consumed at a sport event itself to have any effect and consequently are easily detectable, the situation is different with steroids, which may have been used at a much earlier time and at the time of testing are no longer detectable. There are also substances like creatine which are found naturally in meat products and, thus, as long as they are not used in higher doses, it cannot be confirmed that their occurrence in the body is due to an artificial substance illegally administered. Furthermore, there are a few known substances like IGF1 (Insulin Growth Factor 1) that cannot be detected at all.

With these provisos in mind, the following results can only be considered rough estimates and, by definition, reflect an incidence of deviant behavior lower than is actually true. Of course, one should also observe that certain statements by anti-doping advocates are commonly overstatements: one of the more infamous statements of a former British team physician prior to the Atlanta Olympic Games put the rate of expected dopers at 75 per cent of all athletes. Statements like these receive wide attention in the mass media, even if their truth value is low. One need only consider the fact that in certain sport disciplines doping would not result in performance enhancement to reach the conclusion that a rate of three out of four Atlanta participants doping could not possibly be true, even if in disciplines that are more prone to doping behavior every athlete had indeed doped.

Distortions in public discussions also occur because an element of inner-group versus outer-group or ethnocentricity is at work and assumes other teams to have notoriously higher drug users. Such was the case before the Atlanta Games in public statements made in the United States regarding Chinese athletes and by Europeans regarding American athletes. These observations on the non-reliability of doping rates support the general contention that better research is needed than is available so far and that presently available results should only be used after considerable scrutiny.

Some of the best results are those so far provided by biomedical test institutes and from routine testing at sports events. For the more recent past these results refer mainly to steroid abuse for reasons mentioned above. Stimulants are easy to detect and thus have gone out of fashion. Regardless of the number of convictions, the number of tests performed is also a good indication of the magnitude and costs of biomedical testing.

German Control in Cologne for 1995 reported a total of 8,939 tests of which 125, equalling 1.4 per cent, were found to be positive. Of those found to be positive, relatively more were non-German samples (3.5 per cent). Of course, this does not allow the conclusion that Germans dope less. One could equally conclude that non-Germans were less sophisticated in hiding the use of doping substances. Overall, and given the general publicity the practice of doping in sport receives, the rate appears to be rather low. Yet, it is quite typical that in the recent past other studies have come up with similar figures. G.H. Pope et al. (1988) found a steroid use among male college athletes of 1.7 per cent.

Curry and Wagman (1999) reports for American power-weightlifters that two out of three of them used steroids at least once in their lifetime. High rates of steroid users were also found by Delbeke et al. in Flanders among bodybuilders (1995). Yet, the subculture of bodybuilding has for long been known for its doping prowess and as a supply line for athletes in other activities. Ljundqvist at the World Congress on Doping in Rome reported a detection rate of 1.3 to 2.6 per cent at athletic events, although he cautions that detection rates for steroids at athletic events were at that time almost useless as detectability and respective secure periods for the use of substances were well known among athletes and their supporting cast. Scarpino et al. (1990) report that in a quota sample 6 per cent of Italian athletes acknowledged themselves to be drug users, while 7 per cent stated that access to doping substances was easy. Vogels et al. (1996), in a study of regular gym attendants, found that 6 per cent of them had used some type of performance-enhancing substance at least once. These rates contrast with earlier reports (EC, 1964), when in the early 1960s at the Italian Championship 50 per cent of amateur cyclists tested positive, while the rate for soccer players in the same year was only 1.1 per cent.

In the United States there have been two areas that have received wide attention with regard to doping and drug abuse: professional athletes and adolescents. The former enjoy more or less permanent attention in the mass media. Shortly after the Atlanta Olympic Games a number of the main television and radio stations had athletes or insiders appear and disclose anonymously their use of drugs and painkillers. Hearings in the US Congress in the 1980s confirmed a wide use of drugs, but because of definitional problems the attention focused mainly on alcoholism among elite athletes. What was noteworthy was the fact that athletes, team owners and union representatives alike were of the opinion that they would and could control their own affairs. That, by all indications, seems not to be the case, since economic and commercial considerations alone appear to be the overpowering principles. Thus, in one confidential statement the players of one team disclosed that all of their regulars were routinely doped with substances called Emperor 1,2,3 to enhance aggressiveness, muscle build and to kill pain endured at and after a game. Their quarterback star player, however, was not doped as the side-effects of the doping substances were not known and might have destroyed the player as a high-prized commodity, leading to a considerable loss for the team owners. Also, a later hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee (1990) that focused exclusively on steroids confirmed their wide use, and among professional athletes in particular. However, as Vieweg maintained from German experiences, a higher rate among professionals should not necessarily be assumed as at that level challenges and controls by fellow athletes will also be stronger (1996). Yet, considering the theory of differential association, in team games and commercial sport organizations, when doping is uniformly engaged in by everyone, the control by fellow athletes is not sufficient.

The use of doping substances among adolescents has been fairly well surveyed in the United States due to the relatively high usage and its consistent appearance as an issue in electoral politics. One of the theoretically and analytically most interesting studies by Martha Stuck (1990) confirms a rather high usage of drugs among adolescents and, in line with the above interpretation of legitimization of drug usage in a medicalized society, finds the adolescent drug subculture to be conformist rather than deviant. For sport, however, she finds that athletes take to drugs comparatively less than ordinary students.

With regard to the use of steroids among high school students, Johnston et al. (1995) found in a panel study on drug use that there was no increase in the consumption of substances like steroids and that over a 5-year period the rate for at least one-time use of steroids was fairly stable at 1.6-2.4 per cent. There is no indication, however, to what degree this usage relates to sport or to an attempt to build one’s body and its muscles for appearance. All indications from studies like these suggest, of course, that the rate of usage of doping substances among adolescents is lower than is generally suggested by statements of politicians and commentators.

One of the few quantitative surveys directly concerned with the use of doping was conducted by Ferrando among former and present Spanish Olympic athletes (1995). Data about attitudes, self-reported behavior and the potential for meso-level control by sport organizations show the rate of those having ever knowingly used doping substances is at a low level of 1 per cent. Five per cent say they are not sure, while 21 per cent fully or ‘a little’ agree that doping is necessary in high-level competition. Seventy-six per cent would never take drugs, even if they knew it was to their advantage. Yet, only 27 per cent have trust that doping will be stopped in the near future, while 53 per cent have doubts and 18 per cent do not expect sport organizations to have the capability to do it. Regardless of the limited reliability of such data, they do indicate a low conscious usage; more important, they indicate that normative and moral controls were very much on the minds of the respondent Spanish elite athletes.

Picou and Gill (1990) identify the historical stages of doping since the Second World War and note there has been a steady increase in attention and usage among basketball players. At the same time, an analysis of testing procedures and convictions in France shows a steady increase in the number of athletes tested, while at the same time the rate of convictions has declined (Irlinger et al., 1994). There is also some evidence that indeed, as Donike claimed, there are differences in the periods ‘before and after Caracas’ (Lüschen, 1984), when a number of athletes were convicted of doping at the Pan-American Games or did not even attend the games when they learned they would be tested by more powerful testing means.

The period of high and increased usage among athletes in the Olympic Games, so typical of the period from 1972 to 1988, appears to be over. Whether the Atlanta Games of 1996, supposed to be ‘the cleanest ever,’ were indeed so clean, remains an open question. Biomedical testing was certainly at an all-time high and yet produced only few positive tests. Suspicion abounds, however, whether individual athletes were able to conceal their involvement with drugs or got away with it for reasons that have to do with the inconsistency, reliability, and validity of testing methods and procedures.


One conclusion is to state that doping in sport will be with us for the foreseeable future as it has been with high-performance sport since antiquity (Hollmann, 1996). Although this is probably true with reference to the past, we should draw a more sociologically inclined conclusion with reference to the future and with reference to potentially effective controls. When Bette and Schimank (1995) see doping as related to the differentiation of elite sport in modern society, and Hoberman (1992) expects it to be even more pronounced in future society, they imply at least some variability. Using Durkheim’s theory we may go even further and view doping and doping control in sport as related to problems of morality within sport and in interdependence with morality in society at large. As far as the latter is concerned, sport reflects the morality and social structure of the society of which it is a part. However, it may well provide a special function for moral consciousness and reinforcement within society. There is no question that in the eyes of the public around the world at this time, national and international sport is anything but a model of morality. This perception is tied to the recent reality concerning doping in sport, even if all indications are that doping, even in modern elite sport, is anything but normal. In line with Durkheim’s theory, sport has the potential, if there is more conscious control of doping in particular, to provide the moral impetus that is needed for the survival of the instution of sport as well as society in the future.

Therefore, the control of doping is not only a matter of biomedical testing because such testing will never bring effective control. Doping must be controlled socially and through the moral fibre of society and from the morality of sport within the society.