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Durban – Since Lance Armstrong’s admission that he owed his unprecedented success to doping, sport’s drug cheats have been confessing to their sins in numbers. Locally, cycling champion David George’s positive drug test and subsequent admission to cheating have ensured that the issue remains in the South African public domain.
And it is keeping our national anti-doping body busy.
“My head is still spinning,” said the chief executive of the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport, Khalid Galant.
The man tasked with keeping our national sports clean says he has never received so much information and seen public awareness about doping than since the Armstrong and George incidents.
“A year ago, most people would not have heard of EPO (erythropoietin),” he said. Now the abbreviation was printed on water bottles and sold at cycling races, he quipped.
Galant said it would be “perverse” to say that these high-profile doping cases had helped the institute’s cause, but admitted that it had brought the world of doping into the mainstream.
Founded in 1998, the institute’s office complement had grown over the past four years to meet the increasing demand for drug testing, Galant said. From five people manning the fort four years ago, the institute now had 10 people in its offices, full-time legal counsel, a team of sports doctors, and 83 doping control officers across the country.
Despite the boost in manpower, Galant said they “should be testing more”, and even accepted criticisms levelled against the institute by George, when he was caught, that not enough athletes were screened. However, like all the government-funded agencies, its efforts depended on funding – and with a single EPO test costing R2 800, cash flow made or broke efforts to keep sport clean.
“We always need more money, but I am not going to cry out that we don’t have enough money. It is about efficient use of the money we have. Where we have due suspicion, we test.”
Galant said the institute received 80 percent of its funds from the government, while the remaining 20 percent was gleaned through donations and sponsorship.
Now taking up a large chunk of the institute’s budget was a legal battle with last year’s Comrades Marathon winner, Ludwick Mamabolo, who, along with his team of lawyers, was disputing his positive test for methylhexaneamine. The institute is also conducting retroactive EPO tests on samples from 50 of the country’s top cyclists, taken at major races last year, in an attempt to eliminate any doubt about the sport’s legitimacy in the country.
On the topic of cycling, Galant dismissed rumours that George was now working for the institute, but said that he, like any member of the public, was welcome to pass on information on drug cheats to the institute at any time.
He also noted that most doping activity took place at a master’s level in the sport – riders of 40 years and older.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Galant and his institute colleagues were in Durban recently to punt their school testing programme, which would see pupils being subjected to drug tests if a teacher or sports coach suspected steroid or illegal supplement use.
The selling point of the project was that the institute would bear all the costs involved in the testing, including analysis of the sample at its World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory at the University of the Free State – the only facility of its kind on the continent.
The Durban leg saw principals from top schools around the province attending, apparently keen to implement these controls on their pupils.
Galant and his colleagues launched this world first initiative to address the issue of doping by school pupils, who now had almost unlimited access to illegal products online.
“Steroids do work – I never tell anyone that they don’t work,” he said. But if they were not used for medicinal purposes and prescribed by a doctor, it was not only illegal to consume them, but their use had dire consequences for health,” Galant added.
About steroids available online, he said websites that offered products such as Dianabol – known as pinkies – Clenbuterol, testosterone and human growth hormone, were, in fact, trafficking drugs.
“The scary part is that some of the drugs you receive are placebos, which causes kids to try harder stuff as they do not think their current product is working,” Galant said. – The Mercury