30th March 2021

Dutch prevalence Study estimates doping at 12.5% in elite sport

Doping amongst elite athletes in The Netherlands is estimated at 12.5%, a prevalence Study conducted by the Mulier Institute and supported by the Dutch ministry of health, welfare and sport (VWS) has concluded. The Study used the randomised response technique (RRT), in which surveys are structured using statistical methods that allow participants to plausibly deny admitting to sensitive issues, such as doping.

As such, this means that the 12.5% is a prevalence estimate, and the true scale of doping in Dutch elite sport could be as low as 3% or as high as 24.7%. Researchers compared the results to a similar survey conducted in 2015, and found that the estimated prevalence of doping in elite sport was then 7.6%, however it could have been as low as 0% or as high as 25.5%.

Researchers found the estimated prevalence of anabolic agents in Dutch elite sport to be 2.1%; 0.3% for blood manipulation; 2.7% for stimulants; and 8.1% for other agents. ‘The large majority of the Dutch elite athletes (94%) finds the use of vitamins and minerals, in order to enhance performance, acceptable’, reads an English summary of the findings. ‘The use of supplements (86%) and medication without prescription (74%) is considered acceptable by the majority of athletes. Furthermore, almost one in four athletes accepts the use of prescription medication in order to enhance sport performance.’

The full Study, in Dutch, is available here. Prevalence studies are useful in assessing whether doping tests are catching dopers. The Netherlands’ Doping Autoriteit recorded 39 adverse findings in 2019, 1.2% of the total 3,140 doping controls it performed. Analysis of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) 2018 figures reveals that just 0.62% of anti-doping tests resulted in an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) being asserted against an athlete. This doesn’t suggest that national anti-doping organisations (NADOs) are doing a bad job, just that investigations are more effective than testing in catching doping cheats.

In 2011, the Tübingen Study using the same methods indicated that as many as 57% of elite athletes may have doped in the past year in the lead up to the Doha 2011 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships. The Study was not published until 2017, after the IAAF – as World Athletics was then known – attempted to block its publication. 

Data from the Doha 2011 Worlds featured in a 2017 Study used to support World Athletics’ Differences of Sex Development (DSD) Regulations. Errors were later found in the 2017 Study, which was based on times recorded at Doha 2011. As the Tübingen Study highlighted, doping at Doha 2011 may have been as high as 57%. This could also have affected times recorded at the competition.

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