The Gallup Pole looks at new survey data that inquires American attitudes concerning swimming and track records. The sample included 626 sports fans.
As the Olympic games get under way in Beijing, most sports fans say they are not suspicious about the use of performance-enhancing drugs when they see or hear about an athlete breaking a world record. Just 35% say they are suspicious about record-setters in track and field, and even fewer, 22%, are suspicious about swimmers who set new world bests.
Here are our takes on the poll:
- It is encouraging that the public endorses confidence in athletes. Although we see this confidence as naive, where would track's popularity be if the confidence in new records were about zero.
- On the other hand, how much attention does the public pay to track and field? Does the general sports fan know about the sad recent history of doping in the 100M dash, for instance.
- Swimming receives a 'relative' free pass here. Does the public know anyone in swimming beyond Michael Phelps and Dara Torres? Does anyone remember that record holder Amy Van Dyken participated in the BALCO schemes?
The next question shows a partial naivete on the part of sports fans:
The poll asked sports fans to say how widespread they think the use of performance-enhancing drugs is in each of five popular Olympic sports. In general, fans believe athletes' use of such drugs is not that common. Majorities or near-majorities of sports fans say "only a few" or "no" athletes in track and field, cycling, swimming, and gymnastics use performance-enhancing drugs. Fans are more likely to believe that use of these drugs is common in weightlifting, a sport that has long been plagued by steroid abuse.
We offer the following:
- Fans recognize that lifting is pervaded by PEDs.
- However cycling, and track receive partial passes, which is interesting.
The last question deals with confidence in drug testing: this shows about a 50/50 split.
The International Olympic Committee began drug testing of athletes in 1968, banned the use of steroids by athletes in 1976, and has regularly tested athletes since, adding tests for new performance-enhancing drugs as they become available. Those who have been found to use banned substances are stripped of their medals. However, the testing is far from sufficient to catch all cheaters, because it takes time to develop tests to identify newer steroids, and some of these are designed to be invisible to the tests available at the time.
Sports fans are generally divided as to whether the IOC is doing enough to deal with the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Olympic athletes, with 50% saying it is doing enough and 44% saying it is not.