The Drug War
When anti-doping experts came to town
Harare – The world’s anti-doping experts rolled into South Africa last week for a landmark conference which came at a time when the spotlight has firmly fallen on drug cheats and how they have found ways to beat the system and taint sport.
Recent events in Jamaica, where a number of prominent athletes like Osafa Powell have returned failed drug tests amid concerns there is a lacklustre approach to anti-doping by sports authorities on the Caribbean island that has produced a battery of the globe’s finest sprinters, have cast a shadow on athletics.
But it is not a challenge that is restricted to the fast-lane of high-profile athletics where the quest for big money, and legendary status, has often seen athletes go beyond the acceptable and use performance-enhancing drugs to fuel their battle for perfection.
Last month, a Zimbabwean football star, tipped for greatness, became the first footballer from his country to be banned by FIFA for a drug-related offence. Devon Chafa, the Dynamos midfielder, was suspended for six months after tests of his urine samples, taken after a World Cup qualifier in June this year, returned a positive test for a banned substance.
Chafa’s urine sample tested positive for prednisone, a substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 2013 Prohibited List, and the Zimbabwe international midfielder was deemed to have violated Article 6 of the FIFA Anti-Doping Regulations.
The midfielder insists that he might have taken the substance, unknowingly, in a prescription of a cocktail of drugs that his family doctor prescribed for him for treatment of a broken jaw after he was injured during a league match here in Zimbabwe.
Exactly 12 years ago, Zambian international forward, Rotson Kilambe became the first African footballer to be banned by FIFA on doping-related charges after tests on his urine samples, after a World Cup qualifier against Cameroon, returned a positive result.
Former South African footballer, Arthur Zwane, was banned for two years in 2004 after testing positive for methyl testosterone, an anabolic steroid, although the ban was later reduced to six months.
Zwane is just one of a number of South African athletes who have found themselves in trouble over doping, with Hezekiel Sepeng, who won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, United States, being banned for two years from May 2005 to May 2007 after a positive doping test for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid.
Zimbabwe’s greatest Olympic athlete, Kirsty Coventry, who also sits on the International Olympic Committee Athletes Commission, addressed the conference.
“As a current athlete, I am excited by what WADA are doing and I am here to support them in our fight against doping,” said the swimming icon. “My name is Kirsty Coventry, I am a swimmer from Zimbabwe. I have won seven individual Olympic medals – two gold, four silver and a bronze.
“Becoming an Olympic Champion was a dream of mine since I was nine years old. I have been fortunate that from a young age my parents instilled in me basic morals and values, for instance, knowing what is right and wrong.
“They also taught me that sport is the purest form of competition, as it allows for the opportunity for all who take part to be equal. By supporting WADA, I am helping my fellow athletes compete on a clean, therefore fair and equal, playing field.
“We all know the importance of an athlete’s entourage. I was one of those athletes, whose parents, coaches and doctors believed in my natural talent and passion for my sport. My entourage also realised the power and influence they have over me, and never took advantage of this privilege I gave them.
“I have heard the unfortunate stories of my fellow sportsmen and women who have rightfully trusted their entourage and have been led down a dark path.
I believe if we keep moving forward with firm sanctions and accountability on the entourage we will be making the anti-doping movement stronger.”
Coventry said she was preparing for the 2016 Olympic Games, which will certainly be her farewell meeting at this level, and while she was putting in a lot of shifts, in terms of her training schedule, it would be unfortunate for someone to just rely on drugs to push her into the shade.
“I am in training to compete at my fifth Olympic Games in Rio 2016. It is my human right to know and do everything in my power to ensure that I am competing against clean athletes,” she said.
“I take great pride in saying that I am a successful athlete but more so, a clean, successful athlete. “The last thing I feel like dealing with in the early morning or at the end of a long day is having an unfamiliar face asking to come into my home so I can provide them with a urine sample.
“But for the short amount of time it takes, and realising, hey – it’s actually not that bad! I will do it again because it’s a vital part of our fight against doping in deterring cheats.
“I applaud the various stakeholders here today showing up in their support of clean sport. We can make sure the fight in doping continues but in order to win, we need to do it together and I look forward to working with all of you to make it happen.”
The Johannesburg Conference declared that “the ultimate objective of the fight against doping in sport is the protection of all clean athletes and that all concerned parties should commit all required resources and resolve to achieve that objective by intensifying the fight.”
The Conference has raised concerns over the persistent threat that doping in sport represents, in total contradiction with the spirit of sport and to the detriment of the health of athletes;
It further emphasises the need to protect all clean athletes, to preserve the integrity of sport competitions and to ensure a level playing field. Delegates at the conference were also disturbed by the fact that not only athletes, but also their entourage, including agents, coaches, medical and scientific personnel as well as other professionals, continue to be involved in doping activities;
The anti-doping agency is further alarmed by the increased involvement of organised crime in doping in sport and aggrieved by the use of a wide variety of drugs, counterfeit drugs and illicit substances for non-therapeutic purposes, in particular by athletes and young people.
IOC president, Thomas Bach, addressing the same conference said there was need to step up the fight against drug cheats and protect the “majority of athletes who are clean.”