26 July 2006

SA schoolboys taking steroids

The combination of the money to be made in professional sport and the "winner-takes-all" mentality makes performance-boosting drugs too alluring to resist for some athletes.

The combination of the money to be made in professional sport and the "winner-takes-all" mentality makes performance-boosting drugs too alluring to resist for some athletes.

In South Africa, there have recently been many athletes, such as Olympic medallist Ezekiel Sepeng, who have fallen foul of authorities, despite the career-killing censure this brings about.

Schoolchildren, under pressure to perform, are also turning to drugs, and are striving for a bastardised version of the Olympic maxim - swifter, higher, stronger.

Studies document significant sports drug abuse among school children, with anabolic steroids at the top of the list of performance enhancers being taken.

"There is pressure from old boys, pressure from parents, pressure from the community, plus the internal pressure from school," said Frans van Niekerk, head coach of rugby at Paul Roos Gymnasium school in Stellenbosch.

Van Niekerk said that schools such as his, which could afford a sports psychologist and doctor to help keep pupils level-headed, were less likely to experience performance-enhancing drug abuse.

Institute aims to spread awareness
Implementing a national awareness programme is one of the major objectives of the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) over the next four years.

Daphne Bradbury, chief executive of SAIDS, said in response to numerous anecdotal reports of steroid abuse among schoolboy rugby players earlier this year, that she had discussions with both SA Rugby and school rugby festival organisers.

"And we will be implementing an anti-doping education programme aimed at schools throughout the country, prior to conducting any testing at these events in the future," she said.

Bradbury said it was in the interest of both the sport and schools that rumours be laid to rest, and the values of fair play be reflected on the sports field.

Schoolboys taking steroids
A 1999 survey screened 1 136 Grade 12 pupils from Cape Town schools, and another 1 411 from schools in Johannesburg.

The results suggested that Johannesburg pupils were far more likely to use anabolic androgenic steroids, at 22.7 per 1 000, compared to the Cape's 5.9 per 1 000.

Boys were more prone to using steroids, which were obtained almost equally from gymnasium instructors, friends, or teammates.

The main sport for which steroids were taken was bodybuilding, followed by rugby. Other sports included basketball, athletics, field hockey and swimming.

Bradbury said sports federations should be more active in collaborating with the Institute to create awareness among their athletes about anti-doping rules.

"Athletes have to know the playing rules and regulations of their sport, and so there is absolutely no reason or excuse for them not to know the anti-doping rules and regulations as well," she said.

Ignorance is no excuse
The World Anti-Doping Agency puts great stress on the point that ignorance is no excuse.

A survey found that a staggering 80 percent of South African athletes at the 1998 Commonwealth Games were unaware of the classification of IOC-banned substances listed in the Guide for Drug Free Sport.

"Forty three percent were of the opinion that the use of drugs in South Africa was on the increase. This survey was repeated in 2002 with better results," according to the SAIDS new strategic plan.

In the 2006-2009 strategic plan, the SAIDS, which is the only recognised body in the country with the authority to enforce a national anti-doping strategy, notes a number of opportunities and threats.

Among the threats are:

  • Apathy and ignorance among doctors and pharmacists
  • New substances that cannot be detected
  • Court challenges by lawyers
  • And an increased use of performance-enhancing drugs outside organised sport.

The chairman of the anti-doping commission of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), Dr George van Dugteren, said many countries were slow to ratify the Unesco International Convention Against Doping - a step required to give legal force to the convention.

Only seven countries, of which South Africa is not one, have ratified the above convention to date.

"Not only must governments still come on board... but many athletes and governing bodies are becoming disenchanted with certain aspects of the code and its associated international standards that place too much emphasis on relatively unimportant issues," said Van Dugteren.

One of these was the time and resources spent on testing for the use of anti-inflammatory cortisone-like preparations or beta-2 agonists (asthma inhalers), which many believed were not really performance-enhancing.

"It is hoped that sanity will prevail and appropriate modification will be made to the Code when it comes up for revision in 2007," Van Dugteren said.

He said mankind was "inherently competitive" in nature, and it was clear to him that the battle against cheating in sport will continue for a "very long time". – (Sapa)

Read more:
Genetically altered athletes: Fact or fiction?

July 2006




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