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Doping practice and sport: dialogic identities in comparison between different levels of sporty practices

Author: Gilberto Guastalla, Co-authors: Eleonora Braga, Gian Piero Turchi

University of Padova, Italy - General Psychology Department

In this intervention it is described a research carried out thanks to the collaboration among the University of Padua, Aics of Veneto (Sport and Culture Italian Association) and Asl of Verona (Associazione Ludica Scaligera). The research deepens -in terms of knowledge- the reality known as doping.

Doping, that is the resorting to doping practices by athletes in order to improve or maintain their athletic performances, is not only a kind of behaviour practiced but also spread within the sports context and more and more present in the ‘world of sport’. In spite of this massive diffusion, nowadays there are not many researches about it yet. Because of the serious consequences caused by the use of doping substances in terms of damn for the athletes’ wellness, it is instead necessary to start a cognitive research within and about the specific social and cultural context, from which the use of these substances does not leave aside.

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In this study, from a theoretical point of view, doping is considered a discursive configuration, that means a reality that is not ‘naturally given’, but generated by the discursive processes practiced to ‘know’ it and that are socially available and culturally characteristic.

This theoretic and epistemological principle does not deny in any way the biological effects connected with the toxicity of the drugs, but places these effects and the configuration called ‘doping’ within two different epistemological levels. This distinction permits to place doping within a theoretic and epistemological frame suitable for the object of study; this aspect is a necessary condition for a methodologically correct research.

Considering the consumption of doping drugs (and its consequences on the athletes’ health) as the paradigmatic effect of a specific “discursive construction of the reality”, it becomes necessary to study the discursive processes used within the sports context, in order to construct strategic lines of intervention against the consumption of doping drugs and to favour the promotion of athletes’ health.

So, the aim of this work is to describe the discursive processes carried out about the ‘world of sport’, so that, starting from these, it is possible to detect the discursive elements able to hinder the discursive ways that, on the contrary, make doping possible. Moving from the results of the research, it is possible to plan interventions in the ambit of doping adopting the same methodology used for the research itself.

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The object of the research is the discursive ways generating the discursive configuration named “doping”. As for the methodology, the method called MADIT was used. This method has been developed by the Department of General Psychology of the University of Padua.

The method is made of three criteria. The first criterion consists in the definition of the objective of the research. The objective of this research was to describe the processes of construction of the discursive configuration called “doping”, detecting the discursive practices – the cognitive ways – used by talkers.

The second criterion consists in the definition of strategies coherent with the achievement of the objective. As a strategy, it was decided to use questionnaires made of open and closed questions. The questions, built ad hoc, allowed the researchers to gather the accounts and the narrations configuring the reality called “doping”.

With ‘account’ the researchers mean all that has been said in the first singular and plural person: for example, “I use these drugs to obtain greater physical performances and surpass myself”; with ‘narration’ the researchers mean all that is said in the third singular and plural person: for example, “the one who uses those drugs is not a real sportsman”.

Finally, the third criterion of the method is the individuation of the instruments. In the research two statistic software were used, Spadt for the textual data analysis and Spss for the numeric data analysis. These instruments furnished the statistic and mathematical indicators to delineate the discursive configuration called doping.

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The research included three groups of subjects: the first experimental group was made of 469 athletes; the second experimental group was made of 50 trainers; finally, the control group was made of 290 participants, for a total of 809 persons interviewed.

The answers were given by 52 professionals, 326 amateurs and 91 non-agonist athletes. As for the age, the mean of the age was 22,8 for the athletes, 35,9 for the trainers and 21,8 for the control group. The research involved gymnasiums, sports centers, associations and clubs of the cities of Belluno, Padua, Venice and Vicenza.

As reported above, the results were obtained using the statistical software Spad.t, which permitted to make an analysis of the text. It allows researchers to detect the associations among the words used by talkers, which are the most representative of the argumentative structure of the text they produce. In this relation, only the results concerning the answers given by the three categories of athletes (professionals, agonists and amateurs) will be illustrated.

In order to describe the discursive processes carried out about the configuration of reality called “doping”, the researchers used questions able to “take a picture” of that configuration specifically.

In particular the athletes were asked:

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1)What are, in your opinion, the three most important results to obtain as a sportsman?

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To the question the non-agonist athletes answered focusing on the performance/competition (ex. good physical looks), on the muscular strengthening and toning up together with a desire of relax; amateurs, instead, as important results of sports activity indicated the possibility of improving themselves as athletes and feeling realized reaching the objectives fixed. A different vision was offered by the professionals, that indicate the competitions and the reaching of a personal satisfaction, anyway aiming to respect and accept their own limits.

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2)What are, in your opinion, the objectives of a sportsman who uses doping drugs?

Answering to this question, the group of non-agonist athletes uses discursive ways referring to the strengthening of performances and of the physical power, expressing the opinion that the one who uses doping drugs has the aim of increasing his own physical and mental skills, in order to feel himself the strongest.

The group of amateurs uses ways that underline the best results, the will to win, the increase in strength, excelling, doing the most: according to the group, the most important thing for the athlete is winning, in any case.

The group of professionals uses discursive practices that underline the prospect of interest (profits, good looking and training); this highlights how the achievement of a good performance and esthetic level is linked with a third aspect, the economic one, in particular in the highest levels of the sports practice.

So, if for the amateurs the aim of a sportsman that uses doping drugs is to achieve the “success” with important goals, for the non-agonist athletes the aim of the consumption of drugs is set in the competitiveness, in winning, in doing the maximum. What can mostly urge an athlete of this category to consume drugs is therefore the “certainty of being able to always beat the opponent”.

Finally, according to the professionals the aim of athletes using drugs consists in obtaining the people’s “admiration”: this category of athletes is “disposed to put at risk his own health” just to demonstrate something, to “be in the centre of the attention of the observers”.

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3)Which are the characteristics of the sports contest that can favour the use of doping drugs?

All the practicing athletes express the “urgent necessity” of being able to “increase the endurance to the stress” in order to be always competitive, have “success” and arrive to the professionalism: it is highlighted the big degree of physical and psychological pressure to which an athlete is subject during the competition.

So, once more it is highlighted the dimension of “coming to the high levels”, linked with the achievement and the maintenance of a standard of important results, in order to perform the onerous requests of the contest itself. To accentuate this situation there is also the “fear of looking weak”: the feeling of not being always able to furnish high performances and “not feeling part of the group”.

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Generally speaking, the textual analysis showed that the configuration of reality called “doping” has been generating through the use of two different discursive practices:

Practices of “justification” (“sport, and sportsman as a consequence, dope because they are subject to too many external pressures”), that is discursive ways dealing with the reasons of the behaviour of utilization of doping drugs and that justify the condition narrated. In general, the use of this discursive way implies the maintenance of the “actual state of play”, as the use of justifications legitimizes the actual state and does not allow to adopt other modalities to manage or modify what is happening.

Practices of “competition” (“sports practice is permeated with competitiveness to the detriment of sports values”), that is discursive ways that generate the reality called “doping” referring to the “competitiveness at all costs” and to the achievement of success, independently of the ways to reach it.

So, considering the objective of the research (description of the processes of construction of the discursive reality called “doping”) and the results obtained, it is possible to conclude that the reality “doping”, generated by the discursive practices used by the answerers, is built as a behaviour that, although condemned by the majority of the athletes, is narrated in terms of justification: the utilization of drugs is justified considering the too many external pressures; the moment of the sports activity is narrated as excessively subject to competitiveness to the detriment of the positive values typical of sport, such as amusement, team spirit, possibility of making somebody’s acquaintance and new friends.

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Considering the results, specific scenarios in the sports ambit can be anticipated. The use of ways of justification and of competition by all the groups interviewed, permits to generate a reality in which the sportsman becomes the one who agrees to the rules of the context, that is the athlete becomes the one who adapts with always more adequate modalities to the context in which he practices sport.

Considering the discursive configuration “doping” generated from the accounts and narrations gathered, an operative consequence is the constant formation of the whole sports operators and in particular of the athletes, from a prospective that answers to a politic of “promotion of health”. So the athlete can be generated as a promoter of an ethical code proper of sportsmen, and not as a person who plays a passive role within a context that justifies the use of drugs and that therefore is extraneous to the ethical principles characterizing sport.


in the section “DIALOGICAL MODEL”

- Epistemological foundation and methodological exactness regarding research in the discursive science, symposium and slides files

- Methodological correctness of research in the discursive science field, paper and slides files

CONTACT: labsalute.psicologia@unipd.it

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