Perspectives to Doping Substance Use outside Elite Sports in Finland

Mikko Salasuo & Mikko Piispa

(In Finnish: Kuntodoping - Näkökulmia dopingaineiden käyttöön huippu-urheilun ulkopuolella)

The debate on doping use outside professional sports in Finland got in full swing in September 2007, when the then Minister of Culture and Sports Stefan Wallin expressed his concern about doping use becoming more common outside professional sports. He even questioned whether doping use was becoming a national disease. Wallin’s question has remained unanswered, and the debate on doping outside professional sports has mostly relied on stereotypes and false information.

The use of doping outside professional sports cannot be regarded as deceit or breaking the moral values of sports. The international and sport-related anti-doping rules are made to regulate various sport events, not individual drug use. This distinction is further emphasized by non-criminalization of the use and possession of doping substances in Finland.

Taking doping out of context of professional sports means extending the research object from the effects of doping substances to a wider socio-cultural framework of substance use. In this framework, individuals make choices and communicate with one another on the basis of different motives, positions and roles. Various intentional plans and pursuit of goals have to be taken into account. These are typically guided by intelligence, emotions, habits, traditions, example of others and illusion or information on what is expected of human beings. Thus, the following elements have to be studied: the consequences of action, the associations on which the action relies, the attitude of others, the motives of the research subjects and the conventional way to act.

Hence, the definition of the research topic is considerably wider than the traditional medical approach of the Finnish doping research. In this study, with an aim to gain extensive knowledge to fuel the debate on doping outside professional sports, we were trying to answer the following questions: What is doping when it is not used to enhance one’s performance in professional sports? What is the cultural and social framework of doping, how the use of doping and the users themselves relate to the society as a whole, how frequent doping use is, what are the users’ motives and how various health issues are linked to the phenomenon? To sum up, what is the social position of doping when used outside professional sports?

The doping phenomenon will be cross-explored from as many angles and actors as possible. The primary research data includes eight different windows into the phenomenon, opening up from different perspectives:

1. Key informants
2. Expert interviews
3. User interviews
4. Electronic police data
5. Questions posted at Dopinglinkki-website (Doping Link)
6. Internet discussion forums and discussions on doping in fitness sports
7. Population Survey data (National Institute for Health and Welfare and Youth Research Network, 2010) and Youth Barometer data (2009)
8. Various micro data from key players around the doping phenomenon (the National Board of Customs and Police, among others).

Key results

The research provided unparalleled information on the lifelong prevalence of doping use in Finland. On the basis of this study and previous research we can fairly accurately conclude that approximately one per cent of Finnish adult population has tried doping substances at some point in their lives. Consequently, we can answer the Minister’s question by concluding that doping in Finland is, thus far, a minor phenomenon which in no way can be regarded as a national disease or epidemic.

As described in the study, the current circumstances favour the spreading of various chemical technologies. An ethos of excellence drives people to perfect themselves and to try to reach the maximum. This applies not only to professional life but also to one’s body. People are striving for success regardless of means and risks. At the same time, health behavior is becoming more individualized. Thus, our era is characterized by health choices defined by individual ambitions.
Data on fitness sports doping’s health risks and harms is more widely available than ever, thanks to the internet. The risk analysis of doping use and its potential drawbacks is made on the basis of the individual health sense of the user. The contemporary ethos makes people ignore possible health risks and take advantage of various performance-enhancing methods.

Doping is, above all, a medium. It is used to accumulate various forms of capital. Some users are motivated by achieving strength and muscles for the professional life; others are striving for success in the eyes of the opposite sex. The common denominator of varying motives is the striving for bodily capital which, in turn, is believed to result in the accumulation of social, cultural and professional capital – with varying degrees of importance. This is one of the key results of the study. Doping is not used for the substances’ sake.

In fitness sports, doping has usually been observed from the medical perspective – fitness doping has been viewed first and foremost as a health problem. Several medical studies have been conducted on the subject. Other angles have been overshadowed by the health paradigm. Without understating the health perspective, this survey offers a new insight into the phenomenon. A valid question is, whether the drawbacks and distortions related to the ethos of excellence have been forgotten and engulfed by the health paradigm? From the user’s point of view, it is often a question of the control of life and self-discipline.