Study calls for enhanced anti-doping education in sports science
In Spain and elsewhere in Europe, students pursuing a career in athletic training or scientific evaluation of sports enrol in a bachelor’s degree in sports sciences in order to gain knowledge in a broad array of sports settings and gain research-based interdisciplinary knowledge.
However, the syllabus rarely includes specific academic training on anti-doping regulations or doping prevention.
Researchers from faculties of universities around Spain therefore came together to assess the anti-doping knowledge of the students undertaking bachelor’s degrees in sports sciences.
In their report, the researchers conclude that the knowledge of basic anti-doping rules and doping prevention strategies of the bachelor students in sports sciences in Spain was suboptimal.
"From a practical standpoint, it is not necessary for future graduates in sports sciences to become experts in legal regulations on doping, but it is essential that they understand the extent of doping and its negative consequences in medical, psychological, and sociological aspects of the athlete," they conclude, "additionally, future graduates should possess skills to identify and prevent risky doping behaviors of the athletes with whom they will work."
The researchers call for the inclusion of specific anti-doping training in the syllabus of bachelor’s degrees in sports sciences in Spain, with at least 60 compulsory hours within the syllabus.
A total of 1233 bachelor students in sport science (907 males, 322 females, and 4 participants with non-binary sex) from 26 Spanish universities completed a validated online questionnaire about general anti-doping knowledge.
The results indicated that only 25.7% of respondents knew the different scenarios that can end in an anti-doping rule violation beyond the presence of a banned substance in a urine or blood sample.
Additionally, only 26.8% of respondents knew the difference between a banned substance and an ergogenic aid, and only 33.0% of respondents identified that the WADA list of banned substances and methods applies to all sports.
Other questions with high rates of error were associated with the recognition of the authorities that certify a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) or identifying the purpose of the Athlete Biological Passport.
On the contrary, a high portion of students identified that refusing to submit to doping control can carry the same sanction as a positive test (92.2%), that athletes beyond the ones competing in the Olympic Games and World Championships can be submitted to a doping control test (89.1%) and that several anti-doping rule violations apply to coaches, doctor, and other members of the athlete support personnel (85.6%).
The students with an itinerary on sports performance were the respondents with the highest anti-doping knowledge (67.2 ± 10.2) points, followed by the students with an itinerary on health (66.7 ± 9.5 points).
Collectively, although bachelor students undertaking degrees in sports sciences had high rates of correct responses for some sections of the questionnaire, the researchers say they still presented "extraordinary error rates" in questions regarding the therapeutic use exemption and Athlete Biological Passport despite these being key factors of the fight against doping laid out in The Code.
The anti-doping challenge
The authors of this report state that the fight against doping is a challenging task that requires a multidisciplinary approach including medical, psychological, and sociological measures to be successful.
The report states: "This is because the vulnerability to doping spreads beyond the elite athlete population and reaches other groups of athletes and sportspeople, including amateur athletes and adolescents. Although the main anti-doping actions have been historically based on the detection of prohibited substances in bodily samples, the complexity and reach of modern doping require that prevention measures conform to the core component of any anti-doping program."
Since 2013, the Spanish anti-doping agency has promoted several initiatives of education and learning for students undertaking a bachelor’s degree in sports sciences. However, these courses are offered in a limited number of Spanish universities and do not reach a wide proportion of students because participation is voluntary.
The researchers in the current study say the courses are insufficient to produce well-educated sports practitioners.
"In fact, the data of the current investigation indicate that the students that had received anti-doping information/lessons obtained a similar anti-doping knowledge score to those students who had not received anti-doping information during the degree," their report states.
"This indicates that current efforts made to include anti-doping lessons in bachelor’s degrees in sports sciences at Spanish universities are not sufficient to improve the preparation of future sports scientists, probably because these lessons are short (habitually less than 30 h) and optative. Although it has been suggested that universities with degrees in physical education and sports sciences need to partner with anti-doping agencies to increase the anti-doping knowledge of their students, the inclusion of an anti-doping subject (compulsory and with at least 60 h of duration) within the syllabus of the degree may be the best approach to obtain sports practitioners with enough knowledge and skills to effectively fight against doping."
The authors note a number of limitations to this research including that the response rate was relatively low. On average, only 39.2% of the students who were contacted finished the questionnaire. Although we obtained responses from 1233 students, it is still possible that the current study presents a partial view of the anti-doping knowledge of university students in sports sciences in Spain.
They also note that this research includes a cross-sectional comparison of the anti-doping knowledge per course, as in previous investigations. Future studies should include a cross-over approach to investigate how anti-doping knowledge evolves across the four courses of bachelor’s degrees in sports sciences.
The authors intend to use this same questionnaire for future investigations with other populations of athlete support personnel.
https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14214523 (registering DOI)
"Anti-Doping Knowledge of Students Undertaking Bachelor’s Degrees in Sports Sciences in Spain"
Authors: M. Aguilar-Navarro, et al.