Russian Perceptions of Doping Issues: A sociological study

Mikhail Sinyutin, Sanjana TewariAleksandr Gonashvili
Department of Economic Sociology, Saint Petersburg State University
Snezhana Starovoitova
School of International Relations, Saint Petersburg State University

Doping issues are crucially important for modern sports practices. It is worth considering doping as part of a more general problem of modern society, which consists in striving to improve the productivity of human activity or to maximize personal achievements. Therefore we need to study this issue in the context of the integrated involvement of sport in the complex system of social relations, which means an understanding of the role that society plays in shaping attitudes toward doping in sport.

Recently, a lot of criticism against Russian athletes regarding the practices of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) usage, i.e. doping, appeared in international sports institutions. While not focusing on the medical, legal or moral details of those doping trails, we decided to investigate attitudes towards doping produced in a Russian cultural milieu. For this purpose, we performed a public opinion poll in Saint-Petersburg during December 2017. This sociological study was conducted within the framework of the Center for Sociological and Internet Research at the Research Park of the Saint Petersburg State University.

In terms of method, personal standardized interviews on a computer system for telephone surveys, “CATI”, was used. The general sample for this study consists of adults (>18 yrs) living in St. Petersburg. The number of respondents totaled 1,092. The sample was stratified and quota; controlled parameters were gender, age, higher education, and area of residence. The representativeness of the sample was provided by random selection of phone numbers from a full area array of Saint-Petersburg residents.

Research data

First of all, the vast majority of respondents (89%) has shown their categorically negative attitude to using PEDs in sports. Even more gentle questions about concern about using stimulant medications that increase strength, endurance, and reaction, harvest a large share of opposition (77,4%). This demonstrates that the idea that in sport practices athletes should not resort to the assistance of auxiliary means of a biochemical type is actually very common.

Curiously, attitudes to doping and stimulants use are socially structured by age and gender. The percentage of females with negative attitudes to doping is higher than those of males (90,9% and 86,4% respectively). In case of absolute negativity, females look to be even more dominating.

An individual can be motivated in various ways for using PEDs. As a part of complex social networks, anyone can experience the influence of social attitudes, constructed in the surrounding culture. To clarify this link we asked respondents about their attitude towards justification of doping by such purposes as fame, prestige or money. Their answers show clearly domination of unacceptability of justifying the use of doping by any purpose. Definitely, do not admit justification 64.6 % of respondents, rather do not admit – 14.4 %, rather admit – 10.9 %, definitely admit – 7.3 %. Distribution of answers by gender and education is seeing at Table 2. The most critical are the attitudes of females, the elderly, the more educated, and those representing polar positions in the income hierarchy (most rich and most poor).

Table 1. Attitudes towards the existence of goals (fame, prestige, money), which justify the use of doping in sport

The survey further showed that people in Saint-Petersburg think of only a few sports as being involved in regular doping practices. We deem those answers to be the result of strong media influence on the consciousness of people. Respondents consider athletics (47,7%), weightlifting (26,2%), skiing (25,4%), biathlon (16,7%), and swimming (13,8%) to be the sports most often infected by doping in terms of the proportion of athletes using PEDs. The distribution of results by gender and age with sports percentage over 10% are shown in Table 2. It should be borne in mind that the answer to this question required the choice of three sports, which increased the percentage.

Table 2. Understandings of sports most infected by doping

The poll in Saint-Petersburg asked some questions concerning recent doping scandals that occurred around Russian sport. First, we wanted to know how people estimate the extent of prohibited medications among Russian athletes in comparison to other nationalities. The largest part of respondents (46,7%) think that Russians use PEDs to the same extent as international athletes; 35% suppose Russians use it less and 4,5% more often. The distribution of results by gender and age is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Comparisons of drug usage by Russian and international athletes

The next question was about people’s attitudes towards recent accusations of Russian athletes’ PED consumption. 41% of respondents suggest that accusations are absolutely unfounded; 28,2% assume it to be rather unfounded; 16% reckon accusations are rather substantiated; 7% think that they are absolutely substantiated.Figure 2 demonstrates the distribution of results by gender and age.

Figure 2. Attitudes towards accusations of Russian athletes

Finally, respondents were asked to share their thoughts about the evidence of the scam with doping tests of Russian athletes in Sochi in 2014 that was introduced in the report of the Commission of World Anti-Doping Agency. 51,9% of respondents find proofs of the scam to be absolutely unconvincing; 21,6% find them rather unconvincing; 10% of respondents perceive proofs as rather convincing; 4,2% of respondents treat it absolutely convincing. Figure 3 demonstrates the distribution of answers by gender and age.

Figure 3. Attitudes towards the evidence of the scam with doping tests of Russian athletes, given in the report of the Commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency.


A sociological study, carried out in Saint-Petersburg (Russia) at the end of the year 2017, revealed a few trends in the attitudes to doping in sports among the inhabitants of that city. Residents are fundamentally rejecting doping by means of performance-enhancing drugs. Obviously, this attitude may be seen as natural in a city with strong health concerns. It is significant that most people believe in the innocence of Russian athletes when considering recent doping scandals. This attitude correlates with the lack of trust in international sports agencies like WADA, that accuse Russian athletes of this offense. Petersburgers truly assume Russian athletes to be less engaged in doping practices than other nationalities in international sport. The attitudes of citizens are considered in the context of their impact on the considerations of athletes in making decisions as meaningful.

The next steps in our initial project are to compare sociological data in Russia with corresponding data from India, China, and the USA. Most of the studies have been carried out successfully by our partners in those countries, and analytical results will very soon to be publicly available.

The authors

Mikhail Sinyutin is Professor at the Dept of Economic Sociology, Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. His most recent authored books are Russian Institutional Paths, Historical Proceedings on Economic Sociology (Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2013) and Trust, Morality, and Markets Rethinking Economy and Society via the Russian Case (with Veselov Y. and Kapustkina E. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2016).
Sanjana Tewari is a Master student of Sociology at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia.
Aleksandr Gonashvili is a Master student of sociology in Saint Petersburg State University, Russia.
Snezhana Starovoitova is a Master student of International relations in Saint Petersburg State University, Russia.
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