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The Sports Doping Market: Understanding Supply and Demand, and the Challenges of Their Control

By Letizia Paoli and Alessandro Donati
New York, N.Y.: Springer. 2014.

The Sports Doping Market is a very interesting piece of work with the aim of “analysing the production and distribution of doping products and understanding how anti-doping criminal provisions and their enforcement can contribute to the control of doping within and outside the sports world” (p. xxiii). Although the study focuses exclusively on one context that is exceptionally active (though not as effective) with regards to anti-doping, namely Italy, one can very easily see that the book resonates far beyond Italy in terms of both the research findings and the policy implications.

The book is a very ‘tidy’ publication impeccably structured upon eight substantial chapters, which follow a small section titled ‘Three Antipasti’ (‘three appetizers’) and an amazingly concise Introduction. Anyone having three antipasti in an Italian restaurant would probably feel more than satiated; but the intellectual antipasti that Paoli (an ‘organised crime’ studies ‘heavyweight’) and Donati (a former coach of Italian national athletics teams) offer leave the reader hungry for the substantial main course that follows; but it, unfortunately, is only rudimentarily presented here.

Chapter one briefly reviews the doping and anti-doping literature while also considering the international policy context. Chapter two provides the context for the analysis of the supply of doping products. Specifically, the authors focus on doping substances and methods available in Italy, groups at risk of doping as well as estimates of doping products users. In chapter three, and based on empirical data from Italy, Paoli and Donati consider the main socio-demographic characteristics of the illegal suppliers of doping substances and offer a typology of suppliers and an account of their motive(s).

In chapter four, the authors analyse the multiple and partially overlapping distribution chains composed of legal and illegal suppliers, a distinction which becomes (almost) redundant the more one moves into the book; whereas chapter five deals with two different set of actors on the supply side of the market, official sports bodies and – the ‘usual suspects’ – ‘mafia organisations’ whose involvement in this particular trade is limited.

In chapter six, perhaps the most ambitious chapter of the book due to the methodological difficulties of dealing with the finances of illegal markets, the focus is on the financial dimensions of the doping supply, e.g., prices, revenues and profits in the doping market. Chapter seven offers a review of the legal framework of anti-doping, describes the key institutional jigsaw against doping in Italy, and presents the challenges in law enforcement. In a trenchant final chapter, the authors synthesize the main findings of their study and offer policy recommendations that move beyond Italy and into the international realm.

If, in my opinion, The Sports Doping Market is at its best in chapters four and five, it remains consistently interesting and fresh. Although a significant amount of the data used in this book is produced by criminal justice and regulatory agencies as well as Italian and international media sources, the authors completely refrain from the powerful official and media rhetoric with apocalyptic touches often prevalent in examinations of manifestations of what is described as ‘organised crime’[1]. The arguments are made forcefully and systematically, and the authors stick closely to plenty of (and varied) evidence. In fact, the book is a treasure not only on its own but also because its list of references can direct prospective researchers to hundreds of relevant sources.

The only caveat, which is acknowledged by the authors, is that the estimates of users of doping products as well as the estimation of revenues and profits in the doping business need to be ‘taken with a grain of salt’. This is due to the difficulties of providing accurate estimations of ‘hidden’ populations and unrecorded transactions, as well as to the “number of doping products available and the preferences of the different users and their advisors…” which make it an “almost impossible exercise to assess… the size of the market for doping products in Italy” (p.50).

The Sports Doping Market at points does not only provide a static snapshot of sports doping but directly or indirectly emphasises the mutating nature of the phenomenon over time. The links between the so-called ‘underworld’ and ‘upperworld’, the legal and the illegal, are neatly and almost effortlessly unveiled, the multilateral benefits of this business are obvious, and the (internal) vulnerabilities of the sports and health (and the peripheral) industries are achingly apparent. The work is an amusing and intellectually vigorous – in its simplicity and economy – account, and it is one of those rare books that live up to the publisher’s blurb. This wonderful book is destined to be a standard reference for the issue of sports doping and a valuable contribution to a critical debate. This is a powerful and timely work that academics and researchers, policy makers and virtually anyone who cares about sports will want to read.

Teesside University, UK

[1] For a critique of those accounts see Naylor, R.T. (2004). Wages of crime. Ithaca: Cornell University Press; van Duyne, P.C. (2003) ‘The Creation of a Threat Image’. In van Duyne, P.C., Jager, M., von Lampe, K. and Newell, J.L. (Eds) Threats and Phantoms of Organised Crime, Corruption and Terrorism. (pp. 21-50) Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers

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