Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA
Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA

In a bid to stop doping becoming entrenched in schools rugby, a proposed regulation has been gazetted to make testing of sport-playing pupils easier.

The problem of doping among top school rugby players is rife, and the amendment of SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport Act was published for comment last week by the department of sports, art and culture in an effort to stamp the habit out.

SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport CEO Khalid Galant said: “SA has a problem with cheating and doping school sport, specifically rugby. The stakes are very high in school rugby with lucrative contracts domestically and internationally up for grabs. Many of the high-school games are broadcast live on television or streamed live via YouTube. You will notice the large presence of commercial sponsors and professional coaches at this level.”

He said with the money and reputation at stake “the temptation to cheat is also increased”. 

The amendment proposes that the institute be permitted to test school pupils for steroid use, whereas the current law requires a headmaster to call them onto school premises. Being asked by schools to test for performance- enhancing drug use is uncommon, as schools are loathe to uncover widespread doping and suffer reputational damage.

Galant said: “It is not really in the interest of schools or headmasters to deter cheating or doping as their schools are building more prestige and enhancing their school’s brand around rugby accomplishments. The players from these schools are often scouted first and given the “benefit of the doubt” when selected for professional franchises and the Springboks.”

By contrast, the institute has free rein to test professional sports players at their discretion.

The proposed amendment requires parental consent before a minor is tested.

Sports scientist Ross Tucker said parents often pay for and are aware of their' child's steroid use.

“Their biggest obstacle to getting that proposed policy applied in a meaningful way is going to be the consent barrier. Realistically, I think many parents will simply decline consent, and the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport will remain as powerless.”

Tucker, however, said the concept was good as testing usually only takes place at certain sporting weeks such as the Craven Week, an annual rugby tournament.

“I think it’s good that the institute wants wider scope and ability to test. Anti-doping depends on being able to catch dopers, and if your window to test the player is only a week a year and everyone knows which week it is, it’s like having only one speeding camera and everyone knows exactly where it is.”

Galant said a push for better doping control came from certain schools and some parents, who are concerned that acceptance into a top rugby team is no longer based on talent alone.

“In Johannesburg and Durban there are schools that will not play against schools that have a laisezz-faire attitude towards doping and cheating.”

In 2014, Hilton College made national headlines when its then principal, Peter Ducasse, announced it would no longer play rugby games against Glenwood High School. The schools had competed since 1924.

 “Apart from the increased risk of injury, which is associated with such mismatches, we see no educational value [for any of the players] in playing matches where the contest is decidedly one-sided,” Ducasse said.

The proposed regulation also allows for the testing of gym trainers for the use of performance enhancing drugs and gives SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport staff the ability to inspect fitness facilities and look for illegal substances.

It does not explain why fitness trainers, who are not professional athletes, need to be tested for doping and how the costs would be covered. Galant guessed that it is because gyms are often a place to buy performance-enhancing substances.

“Many of the athletes and learners that we catch often point to the personal trainers at these fitness facilities and ‘family-oriented’ gyms as their first contact and supplier of steroids.”

childk@businesslive.co.za