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  • Writer's pictureBairbre Hassett

The dark side of elite sport


Why is this important to address?



In recent years, professional sports have reached dazzling heights of popularity and success, with elite athletes becoming household names and their feats celebrated as a testament to human achievement. However, behind the glamour and glory, there exists a dark side of elite sport that often goes unnoticed or swept under the rug. This dark side encompasses issues such as mental health, doping scandals, and the pressure-cooker environment that can lead to unethical behaviours.


One of the most prominent issues plaguing elite sport is the toll it takes on athletes' mental health. While they may appear strong and confident on the field, many athletes suffer silently from anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. The constant pressure to perform at the highest level, the fear of failure and public scrutiny, and the demanding training schedules can all contribute to mental health issues in athletes. Despite the recent increase in awareness, the stigma surrounding mental health remains a significant barrier for athletes seeking help, making it more challenging to address and overcome these issues.


Another dark aspect of elite sport is the prevalence of doping scandals that tarnish the reputations of athletes and entire sporting events. The pursuit of greatness and the pressure to win at any cost can tempt athletes to resort to performance-enhancing drugs, compromising not only their own integrity but also the integrity.


of the sport itself. The dark triad personality traits – Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy – can play a role in the decision-making process of athletes who engage in doping. These traits are characterized by manipulative behavior, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy, making athletes with the dark triad personality more inclined to take unethical shortcuts to achieve success.


Research has shown a potential link between the dark triad personality traits and the tendency to engage in cheating, aggression, and antisocial behavior in various contexts. In the realm of elite sport, the drive to win at any cost, coupled with the pressure to maintain dominance, can amplify the dark triad traits in certain athletes. These individuals may be more willing to cheat, manipulate rules, or engage in unsportsmanlike conduct in order to gain an edge over their opponents.


It is essential to note that not all elite athletes possess the dark triad traits or engage in unethical behavior. There are countless athletes who uphold the highest standards of integrity, sportsmanship, and fair play. However, it is important to acknowledge and address the presence of the dark triad personality traits in elite sport and its potential consequences for the integrity of the game.



Identifying athletes with the dark triad

personality traits can be challenging, as these traits are not always readily apparent. Coaches, team managers, and support staff should be trained in recognizing the warning signs and behaviours associated with the dark triad. Additionally, creating an environment that promotes open dialogue about mental health and the pressures of elite sport can help athletes feel comfortable seeking support and assistance when needed.


To combat the dark triad personality traits and promote ethical behaviour, sports organizations should implement comprehensive and regular anti-doping programs, along with thorough background checks and personality assessments for athletes. Education on the consequences of engaging in unethical behaviour should also be emphasized at all levels of sport, from junior programs to professional circles. Furthermore, creating a supportive culture that emphasizes fair play, empathy, and the importance of mental well-being can help counteract the negative influences of the dark triad traits.



Elite sport has the power to inspire and unite people around the world, showcasing the incredible capabilities of the human body and spirit. However, it is imperative that we confront the dark side of elite sport – from mental health challenges to doping scandals and unethical behaviour. By acknowledging and addressing the presence of the dark triad personality traits in elite athletes, we can work towards creating a more ethical, empathetic, and supportive environment for athletes.

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