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USADA Announces Educational Athlete Survey Findings

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced Wednesday the findings from its Athlete Educational Program Development Survey of hundreds of Olympic and elite level athletes in the United States regarding doping in sport.

“This is the most comprehensive survey of U.S. Olympic athletes regarding the use of prohibited substances and athlete attitudes that has ever been done,” said Terry Madden, USADA’s Chief Executive Officer. “The survey was designed to evaluate athletes’ beliefs, values, and experiences about performance-enhancing substances, and athlete experiences with doping control testing.”

More than 700 athletes participated in the study. The survey data provides some new valuable information, and confirms some initial assumptions, which is helpful in shaping USADA’s educational programming to best meet the athletes’ needs.

In addition to athletes, educational modules targeted to those individuals that support athletes (coaches, parents, trainers) will be developed by USADA in the future. The initial USADA survey results will serve as a baseline from which to measure changes as subsequent surveys are administered.

The results from the survey met our primary purpose of gathering information that would assist in developing a foundation of educational programming for athletes.  From this foundation, we will build upon educational modules for U.S. Olympic and elite athletes, and eventually branch out to coaches, trainers, parents, and youth in sport.  While the survey was focused for program development rather than for research, we will repeat the survey annually,” said Karen Casey, USADA’s Director of Educational Programs.

The survey results demonstrate a need to provide education for athletes on the dangers of testing positive associated with dietary supplement use; knowledge of health consequences associated with stimulant products; and cumulative effects of stimulant products. It also showed a need to improve consumer knowledge in identifying various stimulant label ingredients as well as the short-term side effects and potential health consequences associated with creatine use.

“ We should applaud the world records, Olympic medals and outstanding athletic performances.  Most athletes compete clean, and believe in fair play and clean sport.  It is time to put the spotlight on this majority rather than the few athletes who dope-to-win,” said Madden.

Athlete ideas about clean sport and fair play

Ninety-one percent of athletes would not use performance-enhancing substances even if a major competitor were using them.  Of significant interest was that 81% would not use a performance-enhancing substance, even if it would win a gold medal. This is in contrast to a report published in Sports Illustrated indicating that 90 percent of a selected pool of athletes would ingest a prohibited substance if assured of a gold medal.    

Ethics played a large role for the athletes who completed the survey, as three out of four athletes said that competing with integrity is important to athletes in their respective sport. In excess of 90 percent of the athletes felt it was important to follow the rules governing their respective sport.  Eighty-four percent of the athletes who responded do not use performance-enhancing substances or dietary supplements because they consider it cheating, and 79 percent due to potential health risks.

Athlete perceptions about doping control testing

USADA is interested in identifying ways that doping control processes can be improved for athletes. It is important for athletes to be able to understand and trust the high level of standards that govern USADA’s operations. Ultimately, the athletes have a role as a partner in the doping control process.  One of the desired outcomes of USADA’s efforts is that the athletes will trust the integrity of the entire doping control process, which is ultimately designed to protect the athlete.

Therefore, it is of some concern that a significant number of the athletes worry about testing positive for a prohibited substance even if they are not using them.  In regards to drug testing, more than three out of four athletes feel that testing at events is a good idea, that they would be tested at least once during the upcoming year, that doping control leveled the playing field, and that doping control helps to deter doping in sports. In addition, almost three-quarters of the respondents indicated that out-of-competition testing is an excellent initiative.

Theses are concerns that USADA will address through education and testing.

What athletes reported about dietary supplement use:

Overall, athletes have a healthy skepticism about dietary supplements and their claims. Nearly 60 percent of the athletes stated they did not take dietary supplements. Furthermore, 89 percent of the athletes stated they would not take more than the recommended dosage of a dietary supplement to increase its benefits.  More than half of the respondents said they would not use dietary supplements in order to enhance their athletic performance, and 19 percent felt that using dietary supplements provided them a competitive edge.  Creatine was the most widely used substance consumed with 242 athletes saying they have used it during their career.

In addition, less than 40 percent of the respondents felt that the ingredient labels on dietary supplements were accurate.  These information is particularly important, given the current IOC study analyzing actual dietary supplement product contents compared to contents listed on the respective supplement label.  Out of 200 products studied thus far, 20 percent contained substances that were not listed on the product label, and which would cause a positive doping control test.

What did athletes say about anabolic steroids, amphetamine, narcotics, and diuretics?

More than 90 percent of the Olympic-level athletes indicated they would not use human growth hormone, anabolic steroids or a narcotic to give themselves a competitive advantage.  More than 75 percent of the athletes specified that they would not use prohibited substances for the fear of testing positive, while 79 percent regard the potential health risks as a reason not to use prohibited substances.

Eighty-eight percent of the athletes surveyed feel that anabolic steroids are dangerous, even if used only for a few months.  However, a significant number of athletes were unaware of the high probability that steroid use could pose health risks such as death, psychotic symptoms, breast development in males, hearing problems and suicidal thoughts. In addition, a significant number of athletes were unaware that the use of diuretics could cause reduction in female hormones, and death, hair loss and dental problems.

As a whole, USADA’s work as an independent agency, driven by accredited standards and high integrity, is building relationships with all constituents that lead to trusting doping control testing and fair adjudication processes.

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