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July 2015: With the 2015 Craven Week schools rugby festival only days away the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) has pointed to an alarming doping trend in the sport at this level.

“We have increased the number of doping control tests at Craven Rugby Week and we continue to catch young players testing positive for performance enhancing drugs,” said SAIDS’s CEO Khalid Galant. 

Earlier this month the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland dismissed a 19-year-old South African rugby player’s appeal against a two-year ban for doping. The youngster originally tested positive for norandrosterone – an anabolic steroid typically used to bulk up body mass – in July 2013 while playing at the Craven Week rugby tournament. 

Over the 10 years up to 2014 nearly half of all doping convictions against rugby players have come from the under-19 and Craven Week ranks. There have been 13 convictions of Craven Week players during that time, and 10 of those have been in the past five years. The vast majority of positive tests of rugby players across all levels are for anabolic steroids.

“Professional rugby is a lucrative sports career in South Africa and talent scouts from all over the world visit Craven Week,” said Galant.

“The Department of Sport and Department of Basic Education have expressed alarm at prevalence and tolerance of doping in school sport. The government departments have now recognised doping as a public health issue and a sports problem,” he added.

Jeroen Swart, a world-renowned sports scientist, adds: “We know it is an issue. An emphasis on results at schoolboy level … is causing a problem with doping”

As a consequence youngsters are turning to anabolic steroids, which are typically used by athletes to bulk up but have potentially severe side effects. There have also been cases of accidental use of stimulants in supplements brought over the counter from pharmacies. 

Swart said there was a “high likelihood of stimulants” in pre-workout boosters in particular: “Lots of kids buy and take these out of ignorance”.

Do parents or coaches play a role in helping these youngsters to dope? “There are parents who live their lives vicariously through their children and have actively helped them to dope. Others are guilty of turning a blind eye,” said Galant. “As far as coaches are concerned: there are ethical coaches and there are others who encourage doping.” 

So will SAIDS testers be at Craven Week? “We would routinely have testers at such a tournament,” said Galant.

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