Opinion / 22 September 2019, 3:10pm / clinton van der berg
So, does South African sport have a doping problem?
The issue was brought into sharp focus this week with several events that put SA squarely in the dock.
First came word that sprint sensation Carina Horn, the first local woman to dip below 11 seconds for the 100m, had been pinged by the Athletics Integrity Unit. A suspension quickly followed.
(Ironically, this was the week in which Caster Semenya’s 2011 world championship silver medal was upgraded to gold on account of the Russian winner melting the testing cup after her win in South Korea.)
Worryingly, the Springboks’ serene build-up to yesterday’s vital World Cup match against New Zealand threatened to implode when forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot was put on the spot at a media conference. He was asked directly whether SA rugby had a doping problem. His look of astonishment suggested he would rather be elsewhere, but he manfully did his best to respond.
“From a sports spectator point of view, of course doping in sport is something that continually needs to be addressed - not just rugby - on a worldwide platform. To talk about it from an assistant coaching position, I don’t think it’s my role.”
Yet the question was fair given Aphiwe Dyantyi’s positive test for anabolic steroids and metabolites in July. There’s also the cold reality of six tests coming back positive for anabolic steroids at last year’s Craven Week. The year before, there were three positives.
Looked at in isolation, it does appear to be a problem. On the flip side, SA’s increased vigilance means that dopers are more likely to get caught than in countries where testing regimes are less watchful. Only track and field athletes are tested more than rugby players with almost 400 tests carried out in rugby in the last annual cycle.
Excluding weightlifting and body-building, where dope busts are the norm, athletics and rugby each had seven positives; a worryingly high number given how routinely participants are educated about doping. The busts in schoolboy rugby are little surprise. Rumours have swirled around for years and the growth spurts of some players from year to year point to something far darker than steak and vegetables.
One headmaster at a prominent Joburg school told me how his players had been offered amnesty if they came forward.
Meanwhile, a first team coach in Cape Town is on suspension after a schoolboy’s claim that he helped inject an illegal substance.
These episodes point to reckless ambition as players strive for junior contracts, although a local doping official has mentioned boys also bulking up for vanity, human growth hormone being the drug of choice.
Perhaps more worrying is the sort of mess Dyantyi finds himself in. He’s contesting the doping charge - don’t they all? - but you suspect he faces the fight of his life given the drugs cocktail that appeared in his A sample. It’s not impossible to wriggle out: heavyweight boxer Ruann Visser used a heavyweight legal team to do so when he beat a steroids charge last year. The answer to the opening question is that South Africa emphatically has a doping problem.
But it is a scourge that is pervasive across the world, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s most recent report listing countries like Italy, France, the US and Australia with higher adverse drug findings.