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What is wrong with Winter Olympics and what role does government play?

Author: Erika Pauliukeviciute


Winter Olympics is a contest not only for the best performing athletes but also a contest for the bodies responsible for anti-doping rules. National anti-doping organisations are publicly funded and they are responsible for testing athletes. For us, the general public, watching the Winter Olympic games and seeing athletes cheat just makes the whole game unfair. Viewers are not satisfied with athletes gaining an unfair advantage, whereas government bodies fight the threat to athletes’ health that doping is. Moreover, anti-doping organizations are obliged to account for athletes in Winter Olympics. According to the Economist, as prize money and sponsorship deals are getting bigger there are more incentives for coaches and athletes to find smart ways to cheat (2018). The problem arises when there is imperfect information between two parties - athletes (agents) and anti-doping agencies (principals). Athletes and their coaches know more of what they take in order to achieve an astonishing performance. As their motivation to win is increasing, athletes start to consume innovative designer drugs which anti-doping agencies are usually unable to detectable (2018). As a result, the situation gets challenging for both anti-doping agencies to monitor and for other athletes who might feel that they are obliged to take drugs in order to compete. This information asymmetry and incentives not only raise a question of the best way to protect the reputation of anti-doping agencies and the health of athletes, but also what needs to be changed in order to avoid it.


Half of the funding for the world anti-doping association comes from the national governments. This makes national government the principal in this game which is supposed to ensure the accountability of anti-doping detection. National governments need to establish a coherent strategic plan of how to monitor anti-doping agencies and ensure their efficiency towards achieving success. One of the strategies, for the government as the principal, is to invest in Research & Development of doping. However, if we think of the anti-doping agencies as the principal, they also have a role to play: they should create a clear punishment framework for athletes who break the rules. Furthermore, one of the ways to protect athletes acting out of self-interest is to be very clear of given incentives - the prizes. However, this strategy is not really feasible due to fairness: the hard work of honest athletes could go unrewarded, which could crowd out their intrinsic motivation. Also, usually awards are weighted according to the interest of the public - the market sets the price. These athletes play sports at the incredible level while millions of people watch. It makes the situation more complex in terms of reducing the incentives. Therefore anti-doping agencies should discover more superior methods of how to regulate the effectiveness of exposing wrongdoing.



References:


(2018) ‘How to stop doping in sports’, The Economist. Retrieved: https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21736514-athletes-who-cheat-are-rarely-caught-drug-testers-need-better-incentives-catch-them-ho

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This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No694266)