Targeting doping networks as well as individual athletes will help disrupt elite sporting drug rings according to new research from Griffith University.

Dr Peter Bell from the Griffith Criminology Institute and colleagues from QUT and USC analysed the 2012 US Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation of Lance Armstrong & the USPS Team. The Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) funded the 12-month research project.

He says the network surrounding Armstrong was highly sophisticated and similar to that of a criminal drug trafficking network.

“The Tour de France has long been the subject of systemic doping allegations by individual athletes and teams, but Armstrong and his US team and associates took this pre-existing activity to an unprecedented level of complexity” (USADA, 2012).

“For example, from 1999 to 2005 the percentage of podium finishers linked to doping practices was 95%, up from 80% prior to 1999.”

“This represents an endemic doping culture within the sport. It is not solely the domain of individuals acting in isolation but encompasses an entire network of individuals that surround these athletes.”

Dr Bell found the Armstrong-UPS team network gained insight into what was needed to win the Tour de France by studying a tour victory from all possible avenues, which included institutionalised doping.

By enlisting specialists in sports science, coaches, managers, technical equipment, design engineers, team administrators and loyal support staff the group was able to develop an operationalised networked strategy.

“So strong was the network, it developed and implemented a sophisticated doping regime that resulted in seven Tour de France victories for Armstrong and his teammates and associates.”

Dr Bell said the key to the network’s success was its resilience strategies, which included enforcing the sports code of silence: the “Omerta”, issuing threats to other riders, intimidation, legal action and pre-empting potential threats to the network.

“We hope this study will be useful in shaping future anti-doping policy and help keep elite sports clean.”