Ethical Standards in Sport and Exercise Science Research: 2020 Update

D. J. Harriss, Alasdair MacSween, Greg Atkinson

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For publication in the International Journal of Sports Medicine (IJSM), studies must have been conducted in accordance with recognised ethical standards and national/international laws. At the very first stage of paper submission, authors are required to confirm that these standards and laws have been adhered to by reading this editorial. Authors who do not provide any information regarding ethical approval will have their manuscripts rejected before it enters the peer-review process, without any option to resubmit.

Research opportunities, methods and the contextual environment are continually evolving. While the four basic principles of biomedical ethics are, arguably, timeless [1], changes to data collection processes as well as research designs and settings bring changes to ethical considerations. In the original 2009 IJSM editorial [2], we described the ethical considerations embedded into national/international laws and provided specific guidance on the ethical issues which commonly arise in Sports Medicine research. In 2011, this information was updated to recognise the ethical principles of other professional associations and treaties when conducting research involving human participants [3]. Additional information was also provided on the use of Laboratory Animals in research, and on the links between sample size and research ethics. In the second update [4], published in 2014, we elaborated on the ethical issues relating to the investigation of doping agents; the use of animals for answering research questions that appear to be solely focussed on the enhancement of athletic performance; and sample size in the context of the burden to individual research participants. In 2016, we updated some of the guidelines to account for the changes made to the Declaration of Helsinki in 2013, covered the use of social media in research, provided guidance on how researchers can feed back their incidental and pertinent findings to research participants, covered some of the issues relating to studies involving children, and outlined the difference between a full and pilot study in terms of desired number of participants [5]. In the last update (2018), we clarified issues surrounding the use of a gatekeeper for accessing personal data on participants, as well as issues surrounding consent and the associated information to participants [6]. We covered other issues including, breaches of confidentiality, use of personal identifiable information, open access data and secondary analysis of data. We also highlighted the important considerations for use of placebos and research involving participant deception.

In this, our new update for 2020 onwards, we provide the following revisions and additions;

More detail on how to ensure consent/assent is truly informed.

More detail on issues in secondary data analysis projects, and in particular research using data already collected from athletes as part of their contractual obligations with club and/or country.

More detail on factors to consider when undertaking pre-study risk analysis and in study design.

Information on the application of the Principle of Justice [7]; with particular regard to gender imbalance in sampling.

Minor text changes to correct typographic errors and to clarify statements carried forward from previous versions.

Minor changes to the order and layout to enhance readability and usability and reduce areas of overlap.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)813-817
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number13
Early online date15 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


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