South Africa

Doping in sport and the nuclear arms race

2015-11-18 10:52
Fahmy Galant (Supplied)

Norwegian Sports Sociologist Gunner Breivik once asked: “Can doping (in sport) be stopped, or is the escalation of doping like the nuclear arms race?”

The pattern which has developed over the years does indeed mirror that of the nuclear arms race, where one side developed a weapon, then the other responded with a counter, and so forth. In the anti-doping arena the regulatory authorities get on top by developing new tests or methods and then the dopers’ scientists find a new way of enhancing performance ... and so the cycle repeats itself.

Breivik suggested that the drive to win in some individuals was such that a “doping police force” would be needed as a permanent institution to address this threat. And so anti-doping authorities have been put in place in most countries around the world.

In South Africa that body is the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS).

Our mission statement might help clarify SAIDS’s broader role: “To detect, deter and prevent the use of prohibited substances and methods in the South African and the international sporting environment, which are contrary to the principles of fair play and the health and well-being of athletes.”

This is complemented by a vision statement:

“By implementing its mission with competency and efficiency, the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport will advocate: 

· A fair and healthy sporting environment in South Africa;

· The rights of athletes to participate in a drug-free sporting environment are protected;

· That the image of South African sport as drug-free is valued and celebrated;

· That all stakeholders in sport are equally committed to the principles of fair play, and combine their resources in a co-ordinated effort to combat doping in sport.”

One of the issues we battle with at SAIDS is a misconception about our role and structures.

An example is our relationship with the laboratory which does sample analysis for SAIDS: the general public seems to think that this is a SAIDS accredited laboratory . 

Analyses of samples are mainly done at the South African Doping Control Laboratory (SADoCoL) in Bloemfontein. We also use the Cologne Laboratory in Germany as well as other World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited labs around the world when we conduct drug testing of our athletes around the world.

SADoCoL is one of 34 WADA accredited laboratories and, importantly, functions independently of countries and national anti-doping organisations. 

There is a misconception about our relationship with the lab: it is essential that it operates entirely independently from SAIDS to ensure there are no questions about impartiality in its processes. It also keeps the lab at arm’s length from SAIDS’s testing process – it does not, for example, know who the samples sent to it by SAIDS come from.

SAIDS is funded by Government. The Drug-Free Sport Act gives the Institute authority and jurisdiction to carry out drug testing across all sports codes. By doing so we aim to inspire a drug-free sports culture all South Africans can be proud of. 

SAIDS is highly active in its field: in 2014 it carried out 2 421 urine and 309 blood tests. 30 of those were adverse analytical findings (positive tests). The sportsmen who tested positive came from Rugby, Cycling (road), Athletics, Mountain Biking, Powerlifting and Judo. 

Sport codes are categorised into different risk factor levels, which determines where we concentrate our testing.

Recently we have noticed an increase in age group adverse analytical findings in cycling and mountain biking even though testing of these groups is limited. 

There have been a high number of adverse analytical findings in Under-19 and Under-21 rugby but there are also a high number of tests conducted in this group. 

Worryingly, we are also still finding a high number of methylhexaneamine positives. Methylhexaneamine is a banned stimulant that is sometimes found in energy or dietary supplements that can be bought over the counter.

We are sometimes asked about constraints against successful anti-doping work in South Africa. A major challenge is the influx of foreign athletes competing on our sports circuit and training in South Africa. 

While we do have jurisdiction to test these athletes, we have limited funding set aside to test foreign athletes. In addition, knowing where these athletes are training and staying is sometimes difficult to establish without reprioritising our resources. Doing this would compromise our domestic testing programmes.

Quite often they are athletes from a discipline which is not a priority in their own country or that nation’s anti-doping authority does not have the resources (or the will) to put an effective anti-doping programme in place.

But to get back to Breivik’s central question: can doping be stopped?

We at SAIDS are confident that constant refinements to our methods are beginning to bear fruit. An example is the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), where adjustments being made by SAIDS are closing loopholes that have been exploited elsewhere.

In out view there is no alternative: doping is cheating and akin to fraud, so we have to get on top of this battle.

There are 11 steps in the doping control process. Here they are, as published on SAIDS’s website:

1. Your urine and/or blood can be collected anytime and anywhere for doping control.

2. You will be notified by a doping control officer (DCO) or chaperone about your selection for doping control. You will be asked to sign a form confirming that you understand your rights and responsibilities.

3. You will report to the doping control station as soon as possible.

4. You will choose a collection vessel from the selection provided.

5 and 6. A minimum amount of 90mL of urine will need to be provided; You will disrobe from knees to navel and from your hands to elbow to provide an unobstructed view of the passing of the sample; A DCO or chaperone of the same gender will observe the urine leaving your body. 

7. Choose a sample collection kit from the selection provided. Split the sample in the A and B bottles. Pour urine up to the line in the B bottle first. Next, fill the A bottle and leave a small portion in the collection vessel.

8. Seal the A and B bottles.

9. The DCO will measure the specific gravity of the sample to ensure it is not too diluted to analyze. If it is too dilute, you may be required to provide additional samples.

10. You will complete the Doping Control Form, by providing personal information; noting any substances you may be taking: prescription medication, over the counter medication and supplements; noting concerns or comments, if you have any, about the doping control; confirming the information, recorded numbers and sample code are correct; signing and receiving your copy of the doping control form.

11. Samples will be sent to a WADA accredited laboratory in strict confidentiality and will be tracked to ensure their security. Your A sample will be analysed and your B sample will be securely stored for further testing if required. The laboratory will send the results to the responsible anti-doping organisation (ADO) and WADA.

Fahmy Galant is the General Manager of the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS)

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