Plans to introduce a formal doping testing programme at schools have hit a snag after a few legal challenges were revealed. File photo: Neil Baynes

Cape Town - Rugby coaches from two of the Western Cape’s biggest schools have welcomed the introduction of a new drug-testing programme for school-going athletes, saying it is long overdue.

On Monday, the South African Institute for Drug-free Sport (Saids), in an attempt to eradicate a growing trend of steroid and drug use in schools, launched a programme designed to catch doping pupils and discourage future users. The programme will allow schools to initiate unscheduled tests, conducted by Saids, on pupils suspected of doping.

Dave Mallett, Bishops’ rugby coach, has lauded the initiative.

“The time is right,” he said. “The use of performance-enhancing drugs in school rugby is a modern phenomenon. As school rugby becomes more popular, as more games are given live coverage, players begin to feel this enormous pressure to perform.”

He said, as a result, it had become more tempting to turn to harmful supplements, and the internet had contributed to the trend, with many online distributors targeting teenagers.

The programme would go a long way towards discouraging pupils from using steroids and drugs, said Mallett.

“Everyone focuses on the unfair advantage athletes gain from using these substances, but what is more important is the damage they are doing to themselves.”

In the light of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s admission of years of using performance-enhancing drugs, and other doping scandals in the past year, Mallett said the programme would hopefully produce a cleaner and healthier generation of professional sportsmen.

Gustaf Pienaar, head of rugby at Rondebosch Boys’ High School, said regular testing would definitely discourage pupils from doping.

He said that in the past he had wanted to have his squad tested but the costs had run as high as R45 000.

“For most schools that is more than their entire sports budget.”

Pienaar said the programme would hopefully establish a healthy lifestyle for children during their formative years, something which they could carry into their professional careers.

Pienaar had his concerns around the suggested minimum sentence for pupils caught doping of a three-month suspension. He said he wasn’t sure whether it could be legally enforced. But he did agree that a hard line should be taken against pupils caught doping.

Khalid Galant, chief executive of the South African Institute for Drug-free Sport, said many headmasters thought the prescribed minimum punishment of a three-month suspension for children caught doping was too lenient.

A workshop to discuss the new programme will be held at Bishops on Thursday.

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Cape Argus