The good, the bad and the ugly: A qualitative secondary analysis into the impact of doping and anti-doping on clean elite athletes in five European countries

Laura Martinelli, Sam N. Thrower, Andrew Heyes, Ian Boardley, Susan Backhouse, Andrea Petroczi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protecting clean sport, and the rights of athletes to a clean sport environment, is at the centre of anti-doping policies. To better support and enable clean athletes and sport, an understanding of the clean athlete lifeworld is required. The current study explored the ways that clean athletes are personally affected by others’ actual or suspected instances of doping and anti-doping rule violations, and by aspects of the anti-doping system. Qualitative Secondary Analysis (QSA) was used to re-analyse and interpret 13 focus group transcripts generated from the ‘Research-Embedded Strategic Plan for Anti-Doping Education Clean Sport Alliance Initiative for Tackling Doping’ (RESPECT) project (see Petróczi et al., 2021b). The sample in the parent study included 82 self-declared clean elite athletes, from Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovenia, and the UK. Reflexive thematic analysis generated three overarching themes: The harm done by clean athletes having to coexist with dopers, how clean athletes are undermined by a disingenuous interest in clean sport, and the anxiety experienced by clean athletes over mistakes that could lead to anti-doping rule violations. The impacts of doping on clean athletes - direct or indirect - are experienced by all clean athletes in some way. The results indicate that current approaches to anti-doping rule compliance frequently undermine clean athletes and the perceived legitimacy of the anti-doping system.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sport Policy and Politics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

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