Survey: Athletes feel pressure of win-at-all-costs culture
A majority of U.S. athletes responding to an anti-doping survey said they feel pressure from higher-ups to win medals, and the spotlight shines only on those who pile up victories.
Though athletes have often cited the win-at-all-costs culture as a reason they cheat, only a slim number of those surveyed said they would be tempted to take performance-enhancing drugs.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency received responses from 886 athletes in a wide-ranging survey, released Tuesday, that gauged their feelings about a number of issues regarding performance-enhancing drugs.
Sixty-five percent agreed when asked if the U.S. Olympic Committee and individual sports federations pressured elite athletes to win medals; 61 percent agreed with the statement: "When I am failing people are less interested in me."
Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, said he wasn't surprised at the high percentage of athletes who feel they're part of a "win-at-all-costs" culture.
"It is exactly what we hear from athletes about why they chose to dope when they have, and why we must change this culture if we hope to fully return the playing field to clean athletes," he said.
But when asked if they would be tempted to use PEDs under a variety of circumstances, including if their coach recommended it, no more than 9 percent of the athletes responded "yes" to any of the scenarios.
USADA billed this as the largest survey of its kind. It was sent last year to 2,000 athletes in the U.S. testing pool. It got the most responses (149) from track and field.
Only 7 percent of the respondents said they had been tested more than 50 times over their career — an interesting figure during a summer in which Serena Williams has suggested she's discriminated against because she gets tested more than most tennis players. The plurality, 36 percent, said they'd been tested between once and five times. Authorities commonly increase the number of tests for high-ranked players and players coming off long layoffs.
When asked how other anti-doping programs compare to USADA, 34 percent said they were less effective or not effective, while 49 percent replied "I don't know" — a high number in an era in which Olympic sports have been bombarded by a stream of reports about Russian doping. Thirty-five percent disagreed with the notion that their international competitors were adequately tested when compared to themselves.
"Certainly, the Russian state-sponsoring doping scheme showed that there are major international players not running an effective anti-doping program, but actually running a "dope to win" program," Tygart said.