Drug policy in sport: hidden assumptions and inherent contradictions

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2008 Mar;27(2):123-9. doi: 10.1080/09595230701829355.


Introduction and aims: This paper considers the assumptions underpinning the current drugs-in-sport policy arrangements.

Design and methods: We examine the assumptions and contradictions inherent in the policy approach, paying particular attention to the evidence that supports different policy arrangements.

Results: We find that the current anti-doping policy of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) contains inconsistencies and ambiguities. WADA's policy position is predicated upon four fundamental principles; first, the need for sport to set a good example; secondly, the necessity of ensuring a level playing field; thirdly, the responsibility to protect the health of athletes; and fourthly, the importance of preserving the integrity of sport. A review of the evidence, however, suggests that sport is a problematic institution when it comes to setting a good example for the rest of society. Neither is it clear that sport has an inherent or essential integrity that can only be sustained through regulation. Furthermore, it is doubtful that WADA's anti-doping policy is effective in maintaining a level playing field, or is the best means of protecting the health of athletes.

Discussion and conclusions: The WADA anti-doping policy is based too heavily on principals of minimising drug use, and gives insufficient weight to the minimisation of drug-related harms. As a result drug-related harms are being poorly managed in sport. We argue that anti-doping policy in sport would benefit from placing greater emphasis on a harm minimisation model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Public Policy*
  • Sports / legislation & jurisprudence*