How should doping be defined and regulated in elite professional sport?

  • Jonny H L Rees

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The concept of fairness, often expressed as the requirement that athletes should be able to compete on a ‘level playing field’, is at the heart of elite professional sport. This requirement, in combination with athlete health, is cited as a rationale for the prohibition of doping, but what precisely constitutes doping is contested. The current World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA, the foundation directing global anti-doping efforts) prohibition-based system has been heavily criticised following many prominent regulatory failures, such as the Russian institutionalised doping scandal. This has left faith in anti-doping at a particularly low ebb, with key stakeholders such as the athletes voicing concerns about WADA’s approach. Therefore, commentators have advanced suggestions for how the present system may be improved to make it better able to cope with the urgent demands placed upon it. This thesis builds upon such suggestions.

In order to advance practical policy proposals, the thesis provides analysis of the concept of doping and how it should be defined and regulated in elite professional sport. It uses political-philosophical, bioethical, sports ethics and legal analysis to critically examine current regulatory structures and instruments. It argues that the existing policies are grounded in a contested ideological position – WADA’s ‘spirit of sport’ – which fails to account for the realities of elite professional sport, and furthermore that the regulations are inconsistent and incoherent on their own terms, leading to arbitrary policy determinations. Therefore, to advance a more appropriate ‘spirit of sport’ which can inform a system of morality and ethics for anti-doping regulation, this thesis draws upon the work of philosopher John Rawls to derive principles for sports governance. These principles are then used to inform practical policy proposals for more ethically and legally defensible anti-doping regulation which is appropriate for the demands of elite professional sport in the twenty-first century.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorJohn Coggon (Supervisor) & Oliver L Quick (Supervisor)

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