Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091826
  • Original article

Would they dope? Revisiting the Goldman dilemma

  1. Jason Mazanov1
  1. 1School of Business, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  2. 2Department of Kinesiology, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr James Connor, School of Business, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Northcott Drive, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia; James.Connor{at}
  • Received 25 September 2012
  • Revised 18 December 2012
  • Accepted 21 December 2012
  • Published Online First 23 January 2013


Background/aim Discussions of doping often report Goldman's sensational results that half of the elite athletes asked would take a drug that guaranteed sporting success which would also result in their death in 5 years’ time. There has never been any effort to assess the properties of the ‘Goldman dilemma’ or replicate the results in the post World Anti-Doping Agency context. This research evaluated the dilemma with contemporary elite athletes.

Methods Participants at an elite-level track and field meet in North America were segregated into an interview or online response. After basic demographics, participants were presented with three variant ‘Goldman’ dilemmas counter-balanced for presentation order.

Results Only 2 out of 212 samples  (119 men, 93 women, mean age 20.89) reported that they would take the Faustian bargain offered by the original Goldman dilemma. However, if there were no consequences to the (illegal) drug use, then 25/212 indicated that they would take the substance (no death condition). Legality also changes the acceptance rate to 13/212 even with death as a consequence. Regression modelling showed that no other variable was significant (gender, competitive level, type of sport) and there was no statistical difference between the interview and online collection method.

Conclusions Goldman's results do not match our sample. A subset of athletes is willing to dope and another subset is willing to sacrifice their life to achieve success, although to a much lesser degree than that observed by Goldman. A larger scale online survey is now viable to answer important questions such as variation across sports.

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