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Cascading Doping through Athletic Networks

Systematic doping has become a global problem, most notably with the recent Russian track and field team and the international cycling scandals. But doping is not limited to professional athletes with an increasing number of amateurs using controlled substances as well. It is thought that doping initiated in the professional ranks and trickled down to the amateurs though athletes who wanted to emulate their heroes. The low prices, accessibility and lack of doping testing only add to the spread of doing use throughout amateur ranks to the point where doping is almost considered endemic.

The main reason for doping in amateur sports is not only the possible financial gain but also honor and the pride in winning. In the network of athletes, a doping cascade can be started fairly easily, indicating a low threshold. Since every athlete is connected to everyone else, the choice of a single athlete to dope affects everyone else in the competition as well. Assuming that it is the goal of every cyclist to place in the top three of a race and that doping guarantees an improvement in skill, only three dopers are required to set off a cascade that will end up with every athlete doping. In a field of 30 racers this puts the threshold roughly 1/10, and decreases as the number of athletes increases. A frequently asked question is why athletes dope. However, as shown above, it is a simple case of a cascade in the network of competitors, where the gain of switching just to create a level playing field outweighs following the rules.

Doping in Cycling: Why are amateurs ’emulating the pros’?


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