PtG Article 01.07.2003

From word to action: The ambivalence of western anti-doping

Knowledge bank: The problem of drug abuse in sports is an old topic. The anabolic steroid abuse the main form of doping for more than 30 years, has been in existence since the late fifties.

As a consequence, above all in anabolic steroid abuse in top-level sport at the latest during the sixties, primarily by the athletes as competitors but also by coaches, functionaries, journalists and specialists amongst the spectators.

Such visible changes were on the one hand explosive performance developments, on the other hand however, also physical and emotional changes in the athletes.

Doping brought innovatory advantages in performance development. A clear decline in performance, as a result of the implementation of training spot-checks since 1990, does not however  mean that this discipline is doping free.

Productivity curve in Womens' swimming

What is particularly interesting is the deterioration of performance and sometimes severe setbacks from 1989 onwards. This was for example the case in swimming in Germany, but not on an international level where apparently China for example compensated the cessation of the GDR female athletes.

The international development of the standard of performance in swimming in the nineties (primarily the women),  indicates that there were no unannounced training checks take place, there is no drop in performance.

The development on the long distances shows the effect of EPO (cf. Singler/Treutlein, 2000, pp. 69 – 71). Despite the drops in performance it can be assumed that today doping still plays a large roll in top-level sport too.

Doping controls can be effective. However it is an illusion to think that by increased controls the doping problem is solved.

These developments brought consequences in the form of dilemma situations for all involved in top-level sport.

Non-appearance of the results of observations

The first great dilemma arose from the observation of the physical and emotional changes of the competitors and participants in top-level sport: Should they make her observations public or remain silent?

On the one hand, making public of the situation could yield pressure so that something could be undertaken against the problem.

On the other hand however, there is the danger that  journalists and other media sources are excluded from access to information. Functionaries fear that their kind of sport will come into a bad light,  and coaches and athletes fear that even "clean" athletes will become doping suspects.

Therefore, for a long time and up to the present,  most competitors decided to remain silent, particularly since doping observations without concrete proof  can result in legal consequences against themselves.

Secret knowledge conceived during training and competition often did not remain secret, it was passed on in private conversations, which means it reached outsiders as knowledge that could not be proved.

Some journalists dared to announce such information to the public.

For example: Robert Hartmann's publication in 1970 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and  similarly that of Brigitte Berendonk in 1969 both of whom had received essential information about  anabolic steroid doping from an insider.

Amongst insiders the knowledge was shared with hardly any restraints, but it was withheld from the public. The insiders became familiar with the situation, but since they were told that it was confidential information, they felt obliged to remain silent or it was absorbed in the relevant social network.

With some journalists or commentators who were themselves formerly top-level sports people, for example cyclists, their insolence is astonishing, as despite their own doping past,  they comment  today on top-level sporting events, either denying or playing down doping.

The question here is how the professional ethics of sports journalists appears and how its compliance can be ensured.

Discussions on ethics without practical consequences

The discussion on ethics in connection with doping problems is a typical example of problem solution in elite sport. The results of the ethic discussions are accepted without great resistances, but usually remaining without further-reaching consequences, providing no solution for the problem.

Due to this, the sports system and the individual competitor  are forced into a dilemma situation (obedience to the rules or effectiveness). Talking about the real situation of drug abuse has been a taboo for a long time. The violation of the taboo was taken as a violation of a certain code of conduct and isolated those, who were involved in the problem.

According to pragmatic views, it was not those taking drugs, but those talking about it who were to blame for the embarrassment caused by making a scandal of the situation a bad foundation for doping-prevention.

The sports system and its substantial representatives always reacted to attacks from doping opponents with denial or the playing down of doping, or the assertion that with all their measures they have the doping difficulties completely under control.

In view of a poorly developed desire for compliance with the norm and insufficient controls in spite of the discussion on ethics developing simultaneously, the result was that doping was freely implemented.

Discrepancy between official aims and pragmatic everyday behaviour

Modern competitive sport brings both the system and single competitors into dilemma situations between the desire for clean, human sports and the various expectation of success and improved performance, between an ”obligation to adhere to self-prescribed values and goals (e.g. fair play, self-reliance), on the one hand, and a pragmatic, win-lose approach geared to achieving sporting success, on the other” (Treutlein 1994, 154).

In the past, the system has made half-hearted attempts to slow down the development a little. Between the value-orientated attitude and an objective-orientated attitude arise a discrepancy between the commitment to self imposed values (e.g. fair play) on the one hand and a pragmatic behaviour aimed at having success in sports following the code of victory and defeat (Bette/Schimank 1995) on the other hand, which leads to unfairness, cheating etc.

In view of the pressure to succeed and the pressure as a result of people’s expectations  the actors – especially the athletes - who are under pressure to act and to make decisions are often unable to cope with the ambivalence or the antinomy of rationality and values.

As a consequence of the preference of pragmatic behaviour,  the demands which would have resulted from the official value orientation are dispelled.

This is problematic as long as top-level sport is an area of social life which upholds certain values outwardly, values which do not easily fit in with code of victory and defeat.

The discrepancy between statements on the value-orientated behaviour, which are meant to be for the public (official orientation towards value), and pragmatic, purposeful actions (unofficial strategy) seems to be manageable only by means of strategies such as concealment and condoning, which are supported by clear misinformation campaigns for example concerning the alleged ineffectiveness of doping drugs, or on the lack of proof of harmful side effects.

Signals such as ineffective drug testing, preferential treatment of coaches who are involved in drug abuse or a lack of warning against the harmful side effects of drug-taking point to the fact that it was tolerated or probably even wished for that the interrelation between objectives and values was given up in favour of a pragmatic behaviour in everyday life.

Many top athletes and the people surrounding them cannot understand why the interrelation of objectives and values should be maintained since they are not rewarded on these terms.

Given the logic that prevails in top-class sport, self-prescribed values and goals are not necessary for the achievement of success, so preference is given to a pragmatic approach.

That leads to a disregard for the personality of athletes and to the toleration of unfairness and deceit.

The gulf between statements for the public at large about the pursuit of values and goals, such as individual responsibility and self-determination, and the preferred methods of proceeding, which are dictated by the pressure to achieve, can clearly only be bridged by resorting to such strategies as concealment, omission and deliberately turning a blind eye.

Results of this were ineffective doping controls, preferential treatment of doping loaded coaches, missing warnings about harmful side effects of doping aids, dropout of competitors not taking drugs. The social conditions led in subtle way to a tendency towards doping, which was difficult to resist.

The herewith developing double moral standards were not observed only by those directly affected (athletes, coaches, doctors, functionaries), but also sports journalists and spectators.

Doping opponents disturbed the attention of the public agreement between sports, politics and publicity and drew attention to the existence of dilemma situations – they violated the communication taboo.

The reality of top-level sport was concealed by techniques of neutralisation. Looking away, failure to act, concealment and non-negotiation have therefore been systematically instituted as behavioural strategies. There are unequal unpretentious ventures  such as instruction, and conscious renunciation of doping, or an effective education in values.

The general development prevented the emergence of the enforcement of professional ethics in top-level sport on doping problems.

Special Dilemmas for Medical Staff

Doctors in sports associations and clubs are faced with a particular dilemma. Sports medicine directly deals with the human body, it is therefore  of particular importance, especially as it has direct access to illegal substances and is subject to the laws of medical confidentiality.

Problems arise from the moment sports physicians start to follow the code of competitive sport (victory and defeat), therefore removing their own braking mechanism which consists in the orientation of medicine to the principle of ”nihil nocere”, that is the code of health and illness, and to their ethical rules, with ethics being a reflection formula for self-restriction.

By prescribing performance-enhancing drugs, they act along the lines of the code of victory and defeat, but against their ethical rules.

The theory that competitive sport with its supposed positive qualities can itself bring athletes to independent thinking and mature people cannot be confirmed. Young athletes in the system of competitive sport become deviants, they don’t come into sports as dopers.

Nevertheless this is the approach expected by quite an important number of athletes, coaches and officials. Associated doctors and journalists withhold such  behaviour both on the inside and to the public.

Whilst doctors are able to  conceal their silence under the medical pledge of secrecy, corresponding justification is lost for sports journalists. They should really keep a certain distance from the competitors in top-level sport and make their knowledge and findings public.

However, when they do this, they are usually excluded from the insider circle very fast and cut off from relevant information. By following the orientation toward success prevalent in top level sports, sports medicine and sport- journalism catapults itself into the feasibility constraints of competitive sports, they are, so to speak, members of the ”family”.

The result is that they are faced with a strong role conflict, which in the end carries the dilemma between orientation towards values and orientation towards objectives to extremes.

On the one hand, they have to respect their codes of ethics, and on the other, they have to fulfil the expectations of sport. They became part of those problems, ”which have led to the problematic situation of top level sports today” (Bette 1992, 81).

The top-level sport system prefers the support of those who make their contribution to its development without criticism. It excludes from the discussion those in the top-level sport system who observe, analyse and reflect the problematic developments critically.

These disclose weak points and blind spots in the system, above all the sociology of sport and  sport education, but also critical sport-journalism.

They could give the top-level sport system the chance to react to problem developments on time. "They could provide clubs and associations with more knowledge about themselves, their structural processes, deficiencies and erroneous developments  which otherwise would remain a closed book to them.

An insight of this sort could help organised sport to handle its complexities better.” (Bette 1992, 82). Since they are hardly heard, an increase in risk arises for  top-level sport with the danger of the destruction of not only individuals such as the death of Birgit Dressel 1987 pointed out,  but also for the whole sports system.

Without the critical reflection of the behaviour in the top-level sport, it can be compared with an unmanned locomotive charging towards  the precipice.  It would be most necessary to include critical minds in the internal system reflection because the everyday work of the competitors in top-level sport is characterised by routine an by established and depersonalised patterns of managing tasks (Bette 1993, 215).

Since doping cannot be eliminated, dilemma situations are predictable. It therefore seems urgently necessary that these are identified at all levels and possibilities of action worked out.

Watching and thinking about behaviour are preconditions for abating dilemmas, for avoiding self-destroying tendencies and thus for a different approach to the orientation towards values.

The latter represents the ideological superstructure of the system of top level sports, whereas the antinomy victory-defeat contains the codification. The system has to see to it that the orientation towards values (a moralising changing of sport) is just as destructive for sport as a radical orientation towards objectives, which is exclusively interested in a maximisation of performance and in success, and for which the end justifies the means.

The precondition for the continuation of the system therefore is the maintenance of balance between orientation towards values and orientation towards objectives, i.e. an optimisation through reflection.

The orientation towards objectives and successes is the logic of the system; the orientation towards values functions as a break for an otherwise driverless train, which is speeding towards an accident or possibly towards self-destruction.

Far-reaching exclusion of the observation and advice competence of a critical knowledge

It would be wrong to assume that a weakness of character is the reason why the activities of individuals run counter to the self-proclaimed values and goals.

Given the way things are structured at present, a pragmatic approach deviating from the norm is only to be expected. The setting of standards may be proclaimed in fine speeches, but ultimately there is no practical follow up.

The task now, above all that of the sociologists is to see through the individual and to watch and analyse the structure conditions and the constellation, which underlie.

It addresses such questions as: How does deviant doping behaviour take place?  Who influences such  behaviour? How could the conditions be changed? Our theory amounts to explaining special processes of change, especially performance enhancement and performance deterioration, and less by the deviant behaviour of individuals, but as an expression of structure conditions (c.f. Bette/Schimank 1995, 2002).

Doping enables an increase in sporting efficiency but however, violates the accepted household judging-value of sports.  Structural compulsions arise from this which are not demonstrated and lead to the doping of many competitors.

For example,  these difficulties were dealt with by Bette/Schimank (1995), Spitzer (1998) oder Singler/Treutlein (2000, 2001) however, the results are to this day largely abandoned by the sports system . The analysis and advisory competence is hardly used for a meaningful prevention and for prevention of scandals.

Personalisation of  doping difficulties

Doping is frequently considered merely a problem of single athletes. The system alleviates itself through this hypothesis of individual deviation of the taste of having a good look at its own responsibility, and understanding doping as a structural problem.

Doping arises almost inevitably, if targets such as equal opportunities or fair-play aren’t protected and moreover safeguarded by social control. Given the way things are structured at present, a pragmatic approach deviating from the norm is only to be expected. Therefore it would be wrong to personalise the analysis of the doping problem.

The dominance of expediency, i.e. success at any price, is reflected in the suppression of values and the reinforcement of double standards. The individual athlete is embedded in social conditions which subtly lead him to a tendency towards drug-taking.

The athletes, the trainers and others could basically resist, but would have to suffer the sometimes serious consequences (cf. Bette/Schimank on the dependence of athletes’ careers on the chose path, 1995).

Journalists play a sound role in the personalisation of the problem. It is easier to present athletes as heroes and fallen heroes as character weaklings than to worry about structural conditions and structural compulsions.

These are on the one hand very difficult for them to register analytically;  on the other hand it portrays an excessive demand  in the fast-moving daily routine in order to furnish such back-ground information comprehensively for reader and spectator.

Deterioration of the situation by the drop-out of doping opponents

Doping opponents find themselves in the dilemma situation, whether they should remain in the sports system and possibly render themselves guilty or whether they should leave, and preserve a clear conscience, but then not being listened to by the sports system any more.

Many decided against doping and retired either voluntarily or forcibly from sport. This dropout due to doping leads to a situation of doping getting permanently worse. The number of doping opponents became less through the wave of retirements at all levels, whilst the influence of doping supporters increased proportionally and in absolute numbers.

In addition to this, former top-class sportspeople,  a good number of them dopers , find a professional opening in top-level sport. This often leads to the environment of athletes being of low credibility.

Drop-out through doping did not only cause a deterioration of the situation in Germany but also in other countries. The world of sport lost many valuable human resources which clearly demonstrates the self-destructive tendencies of top-level sport with its ”winning-at-all-costs” mentality.

Negative effects of effective prevention endeavours

The results which officially pursue competitive sport could slow down and control the extreme interpretation of this logic such as the fairness demand.

In view of the  readiness of many competitors in top-level sport to dope, the fulfilment of such demands has the consequence of a stronger inequality of chance  and a high probability of a lower success ratio .

The problem is,  that the following the code of victory and defeat is rewarded, and the not-following of the code is punished, for example by reduction in state subsidies or fewer sponsorships by declining performances.

Since in public speeches value is attached to having a balanced relation between an objective-orientated and a value orientated attitude, the real situation, that is deviation by means of drug abuse, has to be covered and concealed.

Whoever tries to uncover these mechanisms has to expect the resentment and sometimes the sanctions by those unmasked,  see the example of Sandro Donati or Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke.

Chief dopers who served the code very well with their successes, received the Federal Distinguished Service Cross, whilst Berendonk and Franke were still discriminated against in the NOK-Repord (the national Olympic Committee Information Sheet).

Only those topics and persons can count on the friendly attention or the good response of those in competition sport which or who ”signalise support and usability” (Bette 1993, 233).

Increase in risk by faulty brakes

With this, the sports system was caught up in a dilemma between short and long-term aims. Long-term aims like social protection following the sports career, personality development of the athletes or cleaner top-level sport are neglected in favour of short-term aims (successes, victories, medallions).

The short-term operation of the winning orientation above deviant behaviour develops counter-productive effects which in their dynamic force cannot to be assessed.

Above all, on the athletes level the risk increases dramatically. It is they who put their health at stake and who are unmasked. It is the athletes and not the persons responsible in the top-level sport system who are primarily attacked by the media  if they are caught.

The development and stabilisation of double standards is the result which is to be expected of a situation of deviation with structural reasons.

The theory that competitive sport with its supposed positive qualities can itself bring athletes to independent thinking and mature people cannot be confirmed. Young athletes in the system of competitive sport become deviants, they don’t come into sports as dopers.

The double moral standards overtax the individual competitor because all of them are rewarded for successes and not for an Antidopingorientation. Declining competitiveness and defeats as a result of an effective combating of doping have the consequence of receiving fewer subsidies from the state, bad assessment by sports journalists and sponsors.

Particularly affected by this situation are all of  those, whose professions depend completely on the results in top-level sport, not only the professional athletes but also the professional coaches, and other full-time personnel in the organisations and associations.

For a voluntary coach or an athlete, whose social security is guaranteed by a different field, defeats, which are of essential importance for an athlete’s career, are easier to cope with.

One whose main job depends on success and has no opportunity of retreating from sports, is especially at the risk of doping temptation. The number of jobs and the budget depend on the success achieved.

Concealment and condoning as favoured strategies to cover up discrepancies

The problems of dealing with this are neither solved or made lighter by their remaining silent or refraining from active measures. In the last few years silence on past deviations in the East and in the West, and the failure to deal with the problem in systematic, sociological terms have met with increasing disapproval and have led to moral and political criticism.

After the historic changes of 1989 and 1990 a unique opportunity to tackle the problem was missed, because similar patterns of behaviour obviously existed in the East as well as in the West and therefore there was no need to disclose the situation.

Forced to confess in court, athletes, trainers and officials became increasingly entangled in their lies and had to face legal consequences. Condoning is much less demanding than informing people about drug abuse and rejecting drugs deliberately or passing on values effectively (cf. GESER 1986, 665). Condoning and concealment seem to have been used as systematic strategies.

Numerous examples illustrate this kind of behaviour: the topic of drug abuse has not been dealt with in special journals, the results of conferences on drugs have not been published, speeches have been given to manipulate the public, the reality of drug abuse has been denied and lies told about it, campaigns have been launched spreading false information, active commitment has been demonstrated though no positive action has been taken, athletes who were not willing to take drugs have not been supported in their team and at nominations, funds intended to clear up the past and present situation of drug abuse have not been provided.

Officials in competitive sport have to accept the fact that they are not only made responsible for scandalous cases of drug abuse, which have become public, but also for ”non-decisions” (cf. GESER 1986, 660).

Concealment indicates that there are taboos which exclude certain topics from communication (cf. HAHN 1991, 88). For decades it has become a common practice to talk about drug abuse in abstract terms and demand the prohibition of drugs: talking about the real situation of drug abuse, however, has been taboo; thus, it is not the reality of drug abuse, but its disclosure which has become a problem.

The reason and the intention of a secret can only be clarified by its meaning, because those who talk about drug abuse imply the reality of deviation.

Being confronted with the problem of drug abuse, some associations reacted with silence and excluded heretics, since they publicly affirmed  the existence of something which according to the official opinion of the German Federations was not true and did not exist.

Thus the heretics disturbed public consensus between sports, politics and the public and pointed out the existence of dilemmas.

The violation of the taboo on the real situation, which was taken as a violation of a certain code of conduct, as stepping out of the line, made those suffer who were involved in the problem, and put them under pressure, since the prevailing comradeship of silence was thereby threatened.

According to pragmatic views it was not those taking drugs, but those talking about it who were to blame for the embarrassment caused by making a scandal of the situation.

Other functional aspects of condoning and concealment are due to the fact that state subsidies and endorsement fees could be secured by not referring to the topic of drugs. The increasing tension between calculated rationality and value-orientated behaviour was covered up.

The competitors continue to be subject to a number of constraints imposed on them by their environment; due to their dependence on politics and the economy they reacted with anticipated adaptation.

There are many good reasons against value-orientated behaviour, reasons which make it difficult even for officials believing in values and fairness to withstand expectations of enhanced performance.

The strategies used to cope with these problems were subversive behaviour, in order to stick to the rules of competitive sport without having to talk about it. Calculated rationality has triumphed over value-orientated behaviour bearing all the risks of such a unilateral approach.

The necessity of an effective prevention

The international and national top level sport has failed to take preventive measures against its one-sided pragmatic orientation of the last decades.

Only those who understand the logic of social situations can entertain hopes for an adequate future guidance. Knowledge and understanding are the necessary foundations for decisions on whether the organisation in sport is to be maintained or changed.

Analysis is the precondition of the advisory role expected from sports sciences, because ”only those who understand the mechanism governing a situation as well as their logic, are in a position to develop relevant was of solving the problem.” (Bette 1989, 68 A2).

Doping is a complex problem which is why only complex prevention strategies have a chance of success. ”Negative educational theory” in the form of doping controls and penalties which are not accompanied by structural measures and ”positive educational theory” has only few chances of success. The coach-athlete interaction must be at the centre of the endeavours.

Competitive sport has a special responsibility towards the athletes which needs to be expressed in structural measures and in the basic and further training of coaches and their selection.

A task for the sport system, but also for coaches and athletes is to prepare themselves for any dilemma which might arise, and to avoid any harmful developments. In particular they should be able to ensure values and the pursuit of educational objectives will be respected.

Sport education and sport sociology can make a useful input here in the form of a critical observation and reflection on decisions, activities and processes. The ethical discussion must be accompanied by complex efforts on a structural level, the level of the athlete’s environment and the education of athletes.

In view of the described situation, the continuation of the ethics discussion is necessary but useless if not accompanied by complex efforts on the structural level, the level of the athlete’s environment and the education of athletes.

Coaches usually have the greatest influence on the development and decision-making process between doping and renunciation of doping of athletes. If they act convincingly against doping, the probability of the emanating of a doping mentality amongst the athletes is low.

If this orientation of sports system and trainer is not convincing, one shouldn't be surprised if athletes succumb to doping.

Competitive sport shows tendencies towards dependence and heteronomy as common strategies of performance production. Valid alongside the reduction of structural compulsions and the increase in the credibility of the attitude of the state and sports is that the best insurance against doping seems, from educational view, to enable athletes to think and to behave independently and to reflect upon short and long-term results of their behaviour.

The participants in competitive sport must be better prepared for this in future, which they will encounter with a certain inevitability the temptation of doping in the course of their careers as athletes, coaches, or doctors.

A raised ethics discussion is not helpful, as the past has pointed out. A practical translation into action of ethical principles is necessary, and here would be a suitable first step for all persons and role models working in top-level sport to feel also personally responsible, and deal with negative developments.

There is neither an ideal way of eliminating the doping problem, nor will doping be able to be eradicated ”once and for all". Fatalism or tolerance of doping would nevertheless be wrong.

From word to action: The ambivalence of western anti-doping

1. Non-appearance of the results of observations

2. Discussions on ethics without practical consequences

3. Discrepancy between official aims and pragmatic everyday behaviour

4. Special Dilemmas for Medical Staff

5. Far-reaching exclusion of the observation and advice competence of a critical knowledge

6. Personalisation of  doping difficulties

7. Deterioration of the situation by the drop-out of doping opponents

8. Negative effects of effective prevention endeavours.

9. Increase in risk by faulty brakes

10. Concealment and condoning as favoured strategies to cover up dis­cre­pancies

11. The necessity of an effective prevention