Jules Woolf, Ph.D., explains what elite athletes really think about doping, winning and death.

The Goldman Dilemma has been often cited as a reason strict anti-doping legislation is necessary. It asked athletes if they would take a drug that would make them unbeatable in their sport, but kill them in five years. In the 1980s and 90s when it was asked, 50 percent of the athletes surveyed reportedly said “yes.”

But in 2011, only 1 percent of athletes surveyed would make that bargain.

New research published online on Oct. 31 in the International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics finds that not only was the original “dilemma” not scientifically sound, but it also did not reflect modern athletes’ opinions. Jules Woolf, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science, Health Studies, Physical Education and Sport Management, and his co-authors interviewed 30 athletes and found that the outcome of death, among other things, made the Dilemma implausible.

“Death was too absolute an outcome given the athletes’ non-sporting aspirations, like marriage and parenthood,” said Woolf.

The existence of such a substance—and its undetectability—also seemed unlikely. The athletes associated performance enhancement with illegality, immorality and negative health outcomes. They also have been trained in a science-oriented view of sport: controlling training, nutrition and building skills are all necessary parts of success, and the idea that a pill could bypass all of that just wasn’t believable.

Taking such a drug also undermined the lifelong hard work that athletes put into their sport. Interviews revealed that athletes saw winning as a way to justify the investment they have made into the sport—and the investment by coaches, trainers and parents. In contrast, the original Dilemma assumed the pursuit of fame and fortune was the primary goal of the athlete. These interviews show that the hard work and slow progress of becoming an elite athlete is just as important as being one.

The paper, “The Goldman Dilemma is dead: what elite athletes really thing about doping, winning, and death,” was co-authored by J. Mazanov and J. Connor, of the University of New South Wales-Canberra.

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