Objective: To assess public awareness of performance-enhancing drug use, that is, doping in sport in Switzerland.
Design: Representative telephone survey in September 1995.
Setting: Two of the three Swiss linguistic areas (French and German), representing 96% of the entire Swiss population.
Subjects: A total of 1201 respondents between 18 to 74 years old, selected by stratified random sampling.
Main outcome measures: Perception of the doping problem in elite versus recreational sport, estimated prevalence of doping in different sports, parents' decisions to keep children out of sport because of doping.
Results: The use of doping in sport was perceived as a "somewhat serious problem" or "very serious problem" by 84% of the respondents for elite sport and by 44% for recreational sport (p < 0.01 for difference). Doping was mostly perceived to represent a physical health problem or an ethical problem. Track and field (79%) and cycling (27%) were most often cited as sports having doping problems, and 35% of the respondents believed that > 60% of bodybuilders use doping. The black market (91%), athletes and trainers (80%), and fitness centers (74%) were the most frequently mentioned sources of doping substances. Thirteen of 14 parents would not dissuade their children from participating in sport because of a concern about the problems of doping.
Conclusions: The Swiss population perceives a high prevalence of doping in sports. There is a clear distinction, however, made by the respondents between the estimated prevalence of doping in elite sport, seen overwhelmingly as a "very serious problem" or "somewhat serious problem," and recreational sport, in which doping is less often seen as a problem. Doping is considered a serious threat to health and ethics in sport, but despite this judgment, only a few parents would hold back their children from sport because of the risks of doping.