German sports world rocked by study on elite sports

Recently the German sports world was rocked by a study on elite sports, which was published not long after in Australia a can of worms was opened by a report of the Australian Crime Commission, which alleges widespread doping and criminal behaviour within Australian sport.

Commissioned by Germany’s sports foundation “Deutsche Sporthilfe”, that country’s premier sports education institution, the “Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln”, conducted a survey on elite sports, and the resulting report, Dysfunctions within elite sports, published on 21 February, revealed some interesting but also some rather alarming results.

This research is probably the first of its kind. Over a year ago, fairly large samples of the general population as well as elite athletes were asked a series of questions relating to contentious issues within elite sports. One can always find faults within such studies, but I think the methodology is quite sound and the data was rigorously analysed, if not interpreted and discussed in as much depth as one would have hoped. Below are just some of the more interesting results of this study.

Just over 2,000 people from the general population were questioned on how they perceive elite sports, and how compatible certain behaviours such as the use of performance enhancing drugs, the use of pain killers, the use of supplements, deliberate rule infringements are with the values of the sports foundation.

When asked about how reconcilable the three values of performance, fair play, and team spirit and solidarity are with either all of the behaviours or none of the behaviours, these were the results:


The study included 1,154 athletes who participated in the annonymous survey. The results to the same question was as follows:


The perception of various negative behaviours or symptoms of elite sports within the general population is also interesting:


When asked about the reasons why athletes use performance enhancing drugs or cheat in other ways, 63% of respondents named the pressure to succeed, 41.5% the desire for recognition, 26.9% the pressure from the social environment, 32.5% said greed was at fault, 12.7% said existential fears were at play, but only 5.7% put it down to a lack of awareness of wrongdoing.

The respondents were also asked how prepared they were to lend personal financial support to elite athletes, and how much they would contribute.

Unsurprisingly, the greater a person believes the proportion of athletes to be who are taking performance enhancing drugs and/or are involved in match fixing, the less inclined they are to contribute financially to the elite athlete support program.

Truly alarming are some of the results from the athlete sample: 8.7% said they had been involved in match fixing, and 5.9% admitted to using performance enhancing substances on a regular basis. 11% admitted they were using pain medication on a regular basis, 40% of whom were quite aware of the risk involved in the prolonged use of such substances. Also quite worrying, 11.4% say they experience burn-out, over half of whom suffer under the condition. The full results are below:


A form of randomised response technique was used to evaluate the honesty of the answers to these sensitive questions.

What would a similar survey amongst Australian athletes reveal?

Source: Breuer, C &  Hallmann, K 2013, Dysfunktionen des Spitzensports: Doping, Match-Fixing und Gesundheitsgefährdungen aus Sicht von Bevölkerung und Athleten, Bundesinstitut für Sportwissenschaft.

All translations mine, tables and graphs adapted from original study.


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