Lies to hide doping in professional sport

image: Dr Marcel Reinold, responsible for the sociology of sport and health at the Institute of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of G & ouml; ttingen
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Credit: Reinold

How do top athletes talk about doping when they use performance enhancing substances themselves? Or do they just avoid the problem? A new study from the University of Göttingen reveals that any decision to use drugs almost inevitably means the decision to engage in deceptive communication such as lying or withholding information. Drug users, for example, routinely describe anti-doping policies as being more intense than ever or too restrictive, downplaying the scale of the doping problem, or portraying themselves as victims. The results were published in the European Sport and Society Journaly.

Dr Marcel Reinold, responsible for the sociology of sport and health at the Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Göttingen, analyzed the autobiographies of professional cyclists for the study. All of these autobiographies were written before cyclists were exposed as having used performance enhancing drugs. The best-known examples are the two best-selling autobiographies of Lance Armstrong, a former seven-time Tour de France winner, written in the early 2000s. In these, Armstrong describes himself as “clean”, although surveys conducted by the American Anti-Doping Agency ten years later revealed the opposite. “The main objective of this research is to identify deceptive doping communication techniques – that is, the typical communication strategies and statements that drug addicts commonly use to manipulate information and cover up doping.” , explains Reinold.

Previous research on this topic has mainly pointed out that drug cheaters adhere to a “law of silence”. Indeed, they usually simply ignore the subject of doping. This comparative analysis of autobiographies, however, shows that prominent cyclists are under enormous social pressure to speak out about the dark side of their sport in order to avoid suspicion of concealment of drug use. Their writing therefore showed that they went beyond the relatively mundane technique of silence, instead using more complex techniques of deceptive communication. For example, the doping control system is regularly described as more intense than ever, while being too restrictive. At the same time, they minimize how widespread doping can be. The clear intention is to suggest – despite the evidence to the contrary – that in a “tightly controlled” and largely “drug-free” environment, there is simply no reason to use performance enhancing drugs.

“The aim is clearly to convince the public that everything about the cyclist concerned is indeed honest and open,” explains Reinold. “These techniques help deceivers to present themselves as compliant with the anti-doping system and also to appear credible in their commitment against drugs. In addition, it helps to allay suspicion, to prevent others from discovering lies and generally to control the flow of incriminating information in such a way that prevents leakage or detection. “


Original publication:, Marcel Reinold. Deceptive Doping Communication Techniques. European Sport and Society Journal (2021). Do I:

Dr Marcel Reinold
University of Göttingen
Faculty of Social Sciences
Institute of Sport and Exercise Sciences
Sprangerweg 2, 37075 Göttingen, Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 551-3925691
Email: [email protected]

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Sara R. Cicero