Durban - The province’s top schools have taken a hard line on doping in sport, buying into a programme which is aimed at ensuring that each sports team they field will be dope-free.
Tuesday saw the launch of the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport’s “I Play Fair” programme in Durban.
In an effort to clean up school sports, the institute met more than 30 principals at Kearsney College where the outline of this “world first” project was explained, and questions on its enforcement were answered.
“It is an opt-in programme… (but) people don’t want to compete against people who don’t play by the rules,” said the instutute’s chief executive, Khalid Galant.
Schools would apply for accreditation from the institute and agree to put forward pupils for testing who they felt - because of reasonable suspicion - were using steroids or banned stimulants.
Galant said that, for legal reasons and because of the Schools Act, the institute could not force a pupil to be tested, but a teacher, principal or coach could ask that a test be carried out.
The school would then decide the punishment if a test came back positive, with the institute recommending a year’s ban from all sport.
“The deterrent factor is what we are aiming for,” said Galant, with the thrust being to scare potential dopers into thinking twice before taking a banned substance.
Tim Gordon, the national head of the Governing Body Foundation, said the programme must have teeth to be effective. He said a year’s suspension was not unreasonable for clear-cut cases.
“There have been debates about ruining a potential career in the sport because of a school ban, but that is what is needed for the masses to learn.”
Gordon said there were things happening in school sports that were not healthy, but KwaZulu-Natal was neither better nor worse than other provinces.
“In virtually every big school, we hear of pupils using supplements, and other things that should not be there. Whether it is taken consciously or unintentionally it is a problem and to clean it up is a good idea.”
Gordon said it was important for parents to support the school’s decision to subscribe to the programme. If a parent objected to having a child tested, it would immediately raise questions about that pupil.
However, he discouraged the practice of submitting requests to test pupils from opposing teams, suggesting the practice would be open to foul play and might have psychological consequences.
He said players should be tested after the match, and by their own schools, referee bodies and neutral sports selectors.
Galant said that if a pupil was thought to be doping, and the school was part of the programme, it would simply call the institute and ask for a test to be administered. A certified tester would be at the school within 48 hours to take a sample.
Bearing in mind the costs of the tests, Galant said, it was “about smart testing and using information they received” and it was important to ensure the process was taken seriously.
Glen Hagemann, the president of the South African Sports Medicine Association and the head of Shark-Smart - a school rugby programme overseen by The Sharks - supported the programme, using an example of an under-19 rugby player whose parents had injected him with veterinary steroids as they wanted to ensure he made the national side. The boy was caught and suspended from playing rugby.
Hagemann said schools must look out for physical and behavioural indicators of steroid use, and apply for the child to be tested by the institute. “Physical size, sudden weight and muscle gain, shoulder and back acne and abnormally greasy hair” were signs Hagemann listed.
He added that the “sophistication” of pupils should not be underestimated when it came to doping, because of the “unlimited” amount of products available online.
The project was being overseen by the World Anti-Doping Body, Galant said.