Dopers Warned ‘Compete Clean’ or Get Caught – Today is National Drug-Free Sport Day* and The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) is issuing a stern warning to doping athletes to ‘compete clean or get caught’, with the implementation of new blood tests for easier detection of designer drug and blood dopers.
Following the recent high profile doping cases, The Institute’s CEO, Khalid Galant, is warning athletes that competing with a ‘win at all costs’ attitude will now be riskier than ever for drug cheats. “Huge advances have been made in what we can detect to control doping in sport, with new testing methods and the use of more targeted testing at events based on suspicious performances and intelligence information pertaining to doping.
“We have ‘ironed’ out the kinks in the operational chain as it pertains to blood testing and will be doing more sophisticated blood tests,” says Galant. “These tests will involve developing a blood profile of the athlete over a period of time which will be analysed with statistical software to predict what the athlete’s profile should look like. Any abnormalities are analysed within this context so that we can determine if artificial manipulation through doping has occurred.”
He adds: “These tests will also provide the ability to detect designer drugs in the sense that with these tests we are not testing for the presence of the drug in the blood (designer drugs are specifically designed to elude being picked up as part of normal testing). The blood profile software that we use predicts what the athlete’s blood parameters should be, based on his/her own biology. When any one of the parameters fall out of the predicted trend determined for the athlete, we have to determine whether it is an isolated natural occurrence or an artificial incident of manipulating blood production through blood doping, Erythropoietin (EPO) or other designer drugs.”
Galant explains that in blood doping, athletes try to increase the oxygen carrying capacity (producing more red blood cells) of their body so that their endurance capacity may increase. “Blood doping is performance enhancing in endurance sports such marathon running, cycling, ironman triathlons etc.,” he says.
Galant says that the Institute’s proactive ‘I Play Fair. Say NO! to Doping’ education and awareness campaign around drug-free sport has catapulted doping issues into the mainstream.
The launch of the initiative last year was followed by a national symposium on sports supplements to deal with the vexing issue around the culpability of sports supplements in doping cases and a national position statement on sports supplements was published to guide athletes into making informed decision around supplements.
“Our SA doping control statistics show the use of performance enhancing drugs is on the increase and our latest positive doping figures just released for the period 1 April 2011 to end March 2012 reveal a 19% increase in doping, with 39 positive tests compared to 33 cases last year.”
2348 tests were done across 37 sports codes. Of these tests, 39 doping charges were filed against athletes with some athletes testing positive for more than one substance. The breakdown of the 39 charges are: Methylhexaneamine = 7, Cannabinoids (Marijuana) = 10, Anabolic agents (steroids) = 27, Diuretics = 4, Evasion = 1, Glucocorticosteroid = 1, Cocaine =1, Methamphetamine (Tik) = 2.
Many of these positive dope tests can be attributed to the widespread availability of sports supplements that contain banned substances like anabolic steroids, pro hormones and stimulants.
Because the sports supplement market is not regulated, Galant says that manufacturers are not obligated to list all ingredients on the product label. Strict World Anti-Doping Agency laws dictate that the athlete is 100% liable for what goes into his or her system. “I cannot stress enough that it is not worth athletes taking the risk of facing public humiliation and a ban, should they consume sports supplements that contain banned substances and test positive,” he adds.
The Institute has started talks with a European company based in SA around the possibility of instituting a quality assurance certification on sports supplements similar to the program in some European countries.
He says that due to the wide media coverage of the ‘I Play Fair’ campaign, many schools and some sports federations have become more interested in doping issues. “They took the initiative of approaching SAIDS and asking, “how can you help us” tackle the problem of steroid use and drugs amongst our athletes? We have now developed a dedicated testing and education framework for schools, which will be presented to schools during the Craven Rugby weeks in July 2012.
The drug-awareness ‘I Play Fair. Say NO! to Doping’ campaign enjoyed an elevated profile when the Minister of Sport, Mr Fikile Mbalula and Premier of Western Cape, Ms. Helen Zille led the “I Play Fair” team in the 2012 Pick ‘n Pay Argus Cycle Tour.
“Earmarking one day in the year dedicated to a particular cause like drug-free sport allows us to concentrate our awareness around one issue on that day,” says Galant. “It is an effective strategy in sustaining long-term awareness within the sporting community.”
To mark Drug-Free Sport Day*, SARU Deputy President, Mark Alexander today lead a procession of 20 children carrying the ‘I Play Fair’ flag onto the field before the South Africa v England game at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in PE, in support of the 23rd June, Drug-Free Sports Day to raise awareness on the dangers of drugs in sport.
“In light of the high profile doping cases over the past few weeks – Luvo Manyonga the long jumper that spoiled his chances of going to the London Olympics and Ludwick Mamabolo, Comrades marathon winner, it is even more important that I help to raise the awareness around the dangers of drugs and doping in sport,” says Minister Mbalula. “We will utilise all creative means of getting the message of drug-free sport across to our athletes, and encouraging our athletes to strive to be the best and to do it cleanly and fairly, free from drugs and doping.”
He adds: “I want to commend SA Rugby for partnering with SAIDS on drug-free sport day – this shows that Rugby and the Springboks are serious about keeping the rugby fields, drug-free.”
He says he would like to see Football and other sporting federations making similar visible commitments to drug-free sport.
SAIDS partnered with TAG Rugby Association for this event.
TAG Rugby Association Director, Stuart McConnell says that the Tag Rugby Association is proud to be a part of this initiative. “Working as a grassroots rugby development organisation, we stand for the great values of rugby and are proud to have been invited to add our voice to I Play Fair Drug Free Sports Day.”
The Institute is encouraging all South African sportsmen and women, coaches and fans to take an I Play Fair pledge. Those wanting to take the pledge ‘I Play Fair – Say NO! To Doping’ can do so by visiting www.drugfreesport.org.za <http://www.drugfreesport.org.za> the mobi-site: m.drugfreesport.org.za, on the Facebook Page (iplayfairZA) and via Twitter (@iplayfairZA)
* = National Drug-Free Sport Day is the Saturday before the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) Drug-Awareness Week.