South African sport has never been difficult to satirise, considering how much mischief occurs in stadiums, the backrooms of stadiums, training fields and offices around the country.
Rugby, fuelled by its soon-to-be-permanent 24/7 news cycle and the greatest moustached literary character seen in a Springbok tracksuit since Andre Markgraaff, managed to push the ante even further last week with the news that Bjorn Basson and Chiliboy Ralepelle both tested positive for the banned substance methylhexaneamine, a “non-specified stimulant” on the prohibited substances list of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). Methylhexaneamine is believed to stimulate the central nervous system and increase the body’s metabolic rate to give it an energy boost.
Dr Craig Roberts, the Sharks and Springbok team doctor, stated that the pair had been taking medication for flu symptoms with the player’s position being one of ignorance. Management has taken the step of placing a moratorium of sorts on the supplements the squad use, since they are suspected of not being quite Wada-kosher
At least we don’t have to worry about radioactivity.
A few days later it was announced that Dolphins batsman Vaughn van Jaarsveld, who ironically has been referred to as the “The Hulk” by commentators in the past, tested positive for the stimulant sibutramine. In this case, the diet tablets subscribed by his doctor (Ciplatrim) were the cause since sibutramine is an appetite suppressant. His suspension was lifted shortly afterwards by the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport, but Basson and Ralepelle will have attend some form of anti-doping hearing.
If occurrences like these at the top tiers of South African sport aren’t enough, three Craven Week players were banned at the start of the month for positive drug tests. Two players, Griquas’ Abrie Marais and Eastern Province’s Jonathan Mudrovcic, were banned for two years for using norandrosterone, a metabolite of nandrolone (an anabolic steroid) and/or a precursor of it. The third, Craven Week Player of the Year Johan Goosen of the Free State, copped a three-month ban for testing positive also for methylhexaneamine. The stimulant was present in a supplement that Goosen had bought over the counter in Bloemfontein.
On the back of the Van Jaarsveld incident, former Sharks team doctor and respected sports scientist Dr Glen Hagemann was quoted as saying: “Because there is no regulation [of the supplement industry], you can manufacture a supplement in your garage. There’s nothing to stop anyone. Each and every sportsman needs to understand, especially in the absence of any industry regulation, that every supplement is potentially unsafe.”
This isn’t the first time South African sportsmen have tested positive for banned substances. In May 2005, former Olympic 800m silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng tested positive for the banned steroid norandrosterone. Western Province hooker David Britz was banned for testing positive for the anabolic veterinary steroid boldenone.
Cases such as Basson, Ralepelle and Goosen are all the result of a lack of regulation in the sports supplement industry, as mentioned by Dr Hagemann. South Africa is only beginning to wake up to the perils posed by lack of regulation, which is extremely concerning considering how far behind the times we appear to be.
I discovered an excellent article by Portia Ndlovu, where she addresses the issue of South African law which regulates doping in sport. You can read it here. The South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport was established by the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport Act 14 of 1997. However, no mention of the Wada Code (of which I’ve spoken about before) was present in the Act until it was amended nearly 10 years later. Remember the 1997/1998 Springbok side, how small they look physically compared to the 2007 World Cup winning side? Granted, the playing clothing has become more sculptured to players’ physiques, which themselves have become monuments to modern sports medicine and training.
The salient message the sports community can take from these recent episodes is that South Africa is behind the rest of the world, and until legislation can keep pace with changes taking place in the laboratory, uncertainty will continue to pervade the lives of our future sports people. Considering the value of sport to South African society, that is a crime almost as reprehensible as doping itself.