Drugs and addiction in sport: A qualitative pilot study

Project Team

Principal Investigator:

Dr Kate Seear, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University


Associate Professor Suzanne Fraser, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University

Contact Person:

Dr Kate Seear, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University


This qualitative pilot study explores some of the central issues associated with the debate about the merits of illicit drug and out-of-competition testing (OOCT) of professional sportspersons in Australia, through a focus on the Australian Football League (AFL). Testing for illicit drug use, including OOCT, raises a number of questions around the privacy and responsibility of athletes, the merits and limitations of punitive approaches to drug use, and the utility of different concepts for addiction medicine within sport. In this pilot study, we explore how concepts of addiction and/or dependence are informing the AFL’s response to illicit (non-performance enhancing) drug use, and how these concepts mesh with conventional understandings of both the ‘agency’ and rights of sportspersons. We also look at how the policy may be shaping public understandings of addiction, drug use and masculinities, and how both addiction and ‘the masculine’ are shaped by understandings and practices within addiction medicine. We qualitatively examine these issues through three main data-sets: publicly available documents informing the development and implementation of the AFL’s illicit drugs policy, in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in the game, and media coverage of the policy. The project will identify areas where further research may be needed, and explore opportunities for strengthening the role of sporting organisations in safeguarding the health of professional sportspeople. It is envisaged that the findings from the pilot study will be used to inform a larger national study of practices adopted in other sporting codes.

As part of this program of research, a separate study (currently under review with a major national grant scheme) examines the rise of steroid injecting in Australia. It is well established that those who use steroids most often inject them, a practice associated with a range of very serious health problems including the risk of acquiring blood-borne viruses (BBVs) such as hepatitis B (HBV), C (HCV) and HIV. Although work has long been underway to contain BBV epidemics among other injecting drug cohorts, the emerging, mostly hidden, at-risk population of steroid injectors has been largely neglected, and Australia’s existing harm reduction framework is arguably not fully prepared to deal with this emerging trend. This qualitative study will explore the needs, motivations and experience of people who inject steroids, exploring the possibilities for more effective and more targeted harm reduction responses.


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