About the VIRTUES study - Values and Individual Responsibility Training to Uphold Ethics in Sport

point-banner2It is well known that doping can have significant negative health consequences for athletes and contributes to an undesirable image of sport in society. Yet, the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) by athletes is a pervasive phenomenon in sport, particularly at the elite level. Although researchers have developed sophisticated detection-based anti-doping methods, prevention is by far the preferred approach to eradicating doping from sport.

To date, the predominant approach to doping prevention has been to educate athletes about the negative health consequences of doping (Elliot et al., 2008; Goldberg et al., 1996, 2000, 2003). However, there is limited evidence to suggest that programmes focusing on education alone can significantly reduce doping intentions and behaviours.

Prevention can be achieved by intervening on psychological factors known to be associated with doping use by athletes (e.g., Barkoukis et al., 2011; Kavussanu, 2016, 2017; Lucidi et al., 2008). Recent research has identified that moral disengagement and self-regulatory efficacy to resist pressure to dope are both strongly related to intentions to dope (Kavussanu et al., 2016; Ntoumanis et al., 2014); however, to date, no study has intervened on these variables. The present study, funded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) aims to fill this gap by developing a novel programme targeting these variables and testing whether it is effective at reducing athletes’ intention to dope. We will develop two versions of this programme: an in-person and a web-based version. We will be working with athletes aged 16-22 years from a range of different sports across three countries: UK, Greece and Italy.

In sum, the study aims to:

  1. Develop, implement, and evaluate a novel anti-doping intervention in young athletes aged 16-22 years.
  2. Determine whether the web-based version of the intervention is as effective as its in-person version in three countries: UK, Italy and Greece.
  3. Examine whether the intervention is equally effective in these three countries.

There are two phases of the study:

  • Phase 1: Intervention development (September 2016-2017)
    In Phase 1, the main activities are the development of the in-person intervention, its translation into its web-version, and the development of the educational intervention/control group. Specifically, the research team will review the relevant literature, develop, pilot test, and refine the main intervention (in-person and web-based), and the educational intervention. This phase also includes recruitment of athletes.  
  • Phase 2: Implementation and evaluation (January 2018-December 2018)
    Each intervention will be administered to athletes in small groups, who will participate in six weekly sessions, delivered in their clubs. Measures will be taken before and after each intervention is completed, as well as two months later. 

    Focus groups will be conducted with some of the athletes who have completed the in-person and web-based versions of the interventions.  The aim of these focus groups is to find out about the athletes’ experience of the intervention.


Barkoukis, V. Lazuras, L., Tsorbatzoudis, H., & Rodafinos.A. (2011). Motivational and sportspersonship profiles of elite athletes in relation to doping behavior. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12, 205-212.

Elliot, D.L., Goldberg, L., Moe, E.L., DeFrancesco, C.A., Durham, M.B., McGinnis, W., & Lockwood, C. (2008). Long-term outcomes of the ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives) program for female high school athletes. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 52, 73-92.

Goldberg, L., Elliot, D.L., Clarke, G.N., Mackinnon, D.P., Moe, E., Zoref, L., et al. (1996). Effects of a multidimensional anabolic steroid prevention intervention: The Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS) program. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 276, 1555-1562.

Goldberg, L., MacKinnon, D.P., Elliot, D., Moe, E., Clarke, G., & Cheong, J. (2000). The adolescents training and learning to avoid steroids program: Preventing drug use and promoting health behaviors. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 154, 332-338.

Goldberg, L., Elliot, D.L., Mackinnon, D.P., Moe, E., Kuehl, K.S., Nohre, L., et al. (2003). Drug testing athletes to prevent substance abuse: Background and pilot study results of the SATURN (Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification) study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 32, 16-25.

Kavussanu, M. (2016). Moral disengagement and doping. In V. Barkoukis, L. Lazuras, & H. Tsorbatzoudis (Eds), The psychology of doping in sport (pp. 151-164). New York: Routledge.

Kavussanu, M. (2017). Doping in football: A moral psychology perspective. In J. Bangsbo, P. Krustrup, P. Hansen, L. Ottesen, G. Pfister, & A. M. Elbe (Eds.), Science and Football VIII.  Routledge.

Kavussanu, M., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Elbe, A.M., & Ring, C. (2016). The Moral Disengagement in Doping Scale. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 24, 188-198.

Lucidi, F., Zelli, A., Mallia, L., Grano, C., Russo, P.M., & Violani, C. (2008). The social-cognitive mechanisms regulating adolescents’ use of doping substances. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26, 447-456.

Ntoumanis, N., Ng, J., Barkoukis, V., & Backhouse, S. (2014). Personal and psychosocial predictors of doping use in physical activity settings: A meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 44, 1603-1624.