January 26 - More than two per cent of athletes take banned performance enhancing substances, says a new study from Leeds Metropolitan University (UK).
This proportion doubles to over four per cent when it comes to athletes admitting previous use of banned substances.
Furthermore, the study – Performance Enhancement in Sport by Lisa Whitaker, a PhD student at the university's Carnegie Faculty – acknowledges that "under-reporting" may have taken place because of the "sensitive" nature of the topic.
More than 80 of the 729 respondents did not respond when asked about current use of banned substances or supplements and 78 gave no answer when questioned about previous use of banned substances.
"A greater number of athletes may, therefore, currently use banned substances and/or nutritional supplements, or have previously used banned substances than actually reported," the study states.
The results should give sports authorities food for thought at a time when efforts are being made to ascertain how widespread doping may actually be.
Asking in a recent speech what the "real prevalence" of doping was, David Howman (pictured), director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) answered his own question: "Analytical findings suggest about one to two per cent, but recent studies suggest double digits."
Howman said that "more work" was being done "in this area".
The Leeds study questioned athletes engaged in more than 50 sports, from ultimate frisbee to powerlifting.
Respondents were mainly, but not exclusively, UK-based, with some 29 per cent practicing their chosen sport at international level, 20 per cent national, 19 per cent county and 31 per cent club/university.
In a striking indication of how desperately athletes believe their rivals want to win, nearly one in ten - nine per cent - said they believed fellow athletes would use a banned drug if it was undetectable and guaranteed winning, even though it would lead to death after five years of use.
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