Testing super anti-doping policy

The anniversary of the 'blackest day in Australian sport' highlights the need for new ideas to improve incentives for athletes to stay clean.

Friday 6 February marks two years since the Australian Crime Commission report blew the lid on most of our most elite sporting codes and the saga continues to drag on today.

Dr Liam Lenten, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics and Finance at La Trobe University, insists that while there was much media scrutiny and outrage as doping charges unfolded, there's been no definitive solutions to emerge from the sports industry.

Dr Lenten believes an anti-doping policy proposal, based on 'conditional' superannuation, which would sit alongside existing measures, such as suspensions and fines, could be a strong incentive for athletes to stay drug free.

His policy proposal would see all riders agree to forego a nominal percentage of their prize money, which would  be placed into a fund, managed in trust and distributed back to them post-retirement – if they have maintained a clean career record. If they're caught doping, they forfeit some of it, or even the lot.

"As economists, we are most interested in the incentives involved – under this policy, older riders close to retirement who are not likely to be as swayed by the threat of a suspension as their younger colleagues, would be financially far better incentivised to stay clean than currently", Dr Lenten said.

"It would also create some balance between stick and carrot, which tends to intensify the behavioural effect of policies".

And Dr Lenten has begun to put his theory to a rigorous scientific test.

"The best way of ascertaining the policy proposal's effectiveness is via the field of experimental economics", he said.

The economist has joined forces with Professor Ralph Bayer at the University of Adelaide, which has experimental economic laboratory facilities; and Aaron Smith, a Professor of Sports Management from RMIT University.

The early signs are promising.

"We have tested and validated the training-effort simulation environment to be used, and started with a financial fine without a ban as the first anti-doping policy. Tests on other policies will follow, eventually culminating in conditional super", Dr Lenten said.

He explains progress: "we initially secured minor funding here at La Trobe to undertake a pilot study. But as economic experiments are highly expensive, we are now applying for national competitive research (ARC) funding to be able to go further. We are also open to other private sources of funding".

 "This is an innovative, practical idea to combat an intractable problem with no other obvious solutions currently being offered; plus it has potential applicability to other forms of gross athlete misconduct, such as match-fixing – now we need to determine whether the results match the intuition."

Contingent on receiving adequate funding, the researchers plan to complete the final experiments of the super incentive policy by mid-2017 and have the results presented to the sport industry, other stakeholder groups and the public by the end of 2018.Media Contact : Catherine Garrett 9479 6565

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