University of Leicester eBulletin

University of Leicester Carries Out the First National Survey of Drug Use in Football

May 2003
No 138

The University of Leicester Centre for Research into Sport and Society has recently, with the cooperation of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), completed the first ever survey of drug use in English football. Using the PFA database questionnaires were sent to all 2863 player members of whom 708, almost 25%, have so far replied.

The responses were evenly spread between Premiership players and players in the three divisions of the Nationwide League, and the distribution of responses from younger and older players, from regular first team and fringe players, also indicates that the respondents are representative of professional players as a whole.

Dr Ivan Waddington, Director of the Centre said, “Considering the delicate nature of the issues raised in the questionnaire, this was a good response rate. The number and distribution of players who responded to the questionnaire enables us to have a good deal of confidence in the results of the survey.

We undertook the survey because it is widely recognised among anti-doping experts that the number of positive test results is a poor indication of the extent of doping in sport. Anonymous surveys of participants have, in the past, provided much more realistic estimates of the extent of drug use within sport. In this regard our survey provides a more accurate picture of the extent of drug use in football than do the results of the UK Sport/Football Association testing programme.

The key findings of the survey were:

·       Although there is greater absolute number of tests in football than any other sport, the large number of professional footballers means that they are tested on average just once every three years. 36% of respondents had not been tested at all in the last two years and 60% of players felt that they were not likely to be tested in the next 12 months. This compares unfavourably with the level of testing in track and field; a Sports Council survey in 1995 found that 75% of track and field athletes had been tested during the previous year, and only 16% thought that they were not likely to be tested in the next 12 months.

·      Almost 6% of our sample indicated that they had been told in advance that they would be tested. This represents a clear breach of drug testing protocol.

·       70% of players indicated that recreational drugs were used by footballers and 46% of players personally knew other players who had used them. 1 in 8 respondents estimated that 6% or more of players in the game used recreational drugs.

·     50% of players indicated that performance enhancing drugs were used by footballers and 5.6% of players personally knew other players who had used them. 1 in 9 respondents estimated that the proportion of players in the game using performance enhancing drugs was over 3%. 

Dr Ivan Waddington said, “Although the survey does not suggest that the use of performance enhancing drugs is widespread, it does indicate clearly that such drugs are being used in football. This is a matter of concern. Given what appears to be an increase in the use of performance enhancing drugs in Italy and in some other countries, and given the increase in the pace and intensity of the game and the physical demands made on players, the pressures on players in the English leagues to use performance enhancing drugs are likely to increase. The absence of testing for the blood boosting drug EPO, which is now reportedly being used by some players on the continent, is also a matter which needs to be addressed urgently.

“Our survey also indicates that the use of recreational drugs is more widespread than the results of the UK Sport/FA drug testing programme suggests. What is of greatest concern is that scale of the use of such drugs is not being reflected in the results of the testing programme. This therefore raises questions about the degree to which the programme effectively detects the use of performance enhancing drugs.”

NOTE TO EDITORS:  

For further details contact:
Dr Ivan Waddington, Centre for Research into Sport and Society, University of Leicester, telephone 0116 252 5935 , email iw11@le.ac.uk              

Dominic Malcolm , Centre for Research into Sport and Society , University of Leicester , telephone 0116 252 5933 , email dem4@le.ac.uk

Martin Roderick, Centre for Research into Sport and Society, University of Leicester , telephone 0116 252 5941 , email mr29@le.ac.uk 

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