Has he been given a fair shake?

2012-06-23 00:00

THERE have been a number of cases like Ludwick Mamabolo’s in the Comrades in past years. Charl Mattheus was one of the first and had one of the highest profiles.

Mattheus received a ban for taking the stimulant methylhexaneamine (MHA), found in a cough mixture. He lost his title to the often forgotten winner, Jetman Msutu. Questions are frequently raised over the effectiveness of MHA as a stimulant in sport.

Although many dynamics have changed since 1992, Professor Tim Noakes has consistently maintained that MHA would not provide performance enhancement.

In 2010, when two SA rugby players were provisionally suspended for MHA, Noakes noted: “Methylhexaneamine disappears from someone’s system within 24 to 36 hours. This is not a doping incident. It’s an incident of inadvertent use through medication or a supplement.”

The tribunal held in 2011 exonerated the rugby players of any wrongdoing as the substance was said to have been detected in a supplement openly available on the market and provided by South African Rugby as a pre-match energy drink. Although the SA Rugby Union was chastised for not taking sufficient steps to ensure that the supplements were drug-free, the players were reinstated with immediate effect.

A key difference in the rugby case was that the federation had provided the supplements to the athletes. In 1992 Mattheus chose to take the cough mixture. Debatably he should have been more aware of the composition of an over-the-counter medicine than the unsuspecting supplement.

It is understood that the current case will also revolve around the use of “energy supplements”.

Although the Medical Control Council has attempted for over a decade to have sports supplements registered, this has yet to happen.

Is it unreasonable to assume that supplements or manufacturers whose products have fallen foul of doping in previous cases should be identified on a list? Given the diversity of communities in South Africa, is there a moral obligation for the South African Institute for Drug-free Sports (Saids) and the federations (and clubs) to make such a list available to players, at least to those athletes on the national lists?

The Athletics SA (ASA) website provides minimal anti-doping guidelines, whereas the Saids website has a useful search engine on medical products, but no listing or even warning about the use of sports supplements.

It would seem that although key authorities know details of problematic supplements and manufacturers, this information is not readily available even to the select group of elite athletes who are most likely to use such products and are most exposed to testing.

Am I the only one to think something askew in this? Have I missed something?

No doubt over the next few weeks the exact details of this now widely publicised case will be lived out in the media and we will be able to assess the extent to which the anti-doping body and sports federations have addressed the issue of known “hazardous” supplements.

This is but one concern over the Saids announcement, which also made reference to an anomaly in testosterone levels in another athlete.

The manner of the reporting has resulted in speculation that this may not be a male runner, but the commencement of another Caster Semenya–type case.

Testosterone is generally tested to determine the ratio to epitestosterone with anomalies requiring further investigations. Although there seems to be no maximum testosterone limits for male athletes, South Africa is acutely aware of the potential impact of high testosterone in females.

If it is one of the top women runners, is there not a danger of having personal details exposed in a similar fashion as for Semenya?

Semenya retained her 2009 World Championship title, so the possibility exists that a top woman runner should also be allowed to maintain her Comrades top 10 spot while receiving “off-line advice” on ways in which future performances and testosterone levels can be adjusted to the required acceptable standards.

If a male runner is found to have manipulated his testosterone it is more likely to result in the athlete being removed from the results and hence a more public awareness.

The fact that the gender of the athlete was not included may not have been a wise move as it simply provokes speculation.

On what basis is it acceptable for the athlete with alleged hormone abuse not to be named, when the athlete alleged to have abused a somewhat questionable stimulant is exposed and subjected to public scrutiny without been given the opportunity to the render a defencee or even his constitutional right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty?

Would it not have been better for the announcement simply to have identified that there were two anomalies amongst the 20 tests carried out and more information would be provided as and when the athletes had been given the opportunity of testing the B samples and making representations?

Why did Saids name the athlete, which, particularly if found innocent as the two rugby players were, could result in a major legal claim over the unwarranted, untold damage and irreparable character assassination of the past days?

Was there a leak of the results from Saids or the official testing laboratory in Bloemfontein? If so then the credibility of the process and the reaction by authorities require scrutiny.

It could even be speculated that Saids now faces even greater pressure to prosecute the athlete in order to avoid such a legal challenge.

Can Saids afford to exonerate the athlete the way the two rugby players were? The athlete’s confidentiality and athlete notification are covered in section 7 of Saids’s rules.

Under IAAF rules “the identity of the athlete or other person who are alleged to have committed anti-doping rule violations may be publicly disclosed only after notice has been provided to the athlete or other person in accordance with rule 37,4 or 37,10.”

By all accounts this was not the case, as the runner is said to have first heard of the allegations while with another leading athlete in the offices of a potential sponsor.

The accompanying athlete was told of the announcement by a third party before the accused was, and even the media had the name of the athlete an hour or so before he received a call from ASA with relevant notification. He received numerous calls from friends and others prior to any notification and the first notification from Saids came over 24 hours after it had posted the original Media 24 story on its official web page.

In my view there are many reasons for concern in the announcement of anomalies in the testing of Comrades 2012, but the concerns are not restricted to what or how any athlete may or may not have ingested banned substances: there are good grounds for an investigation into the possible leaks, a moral obligation for education and for authorities’ announcing and reporting methods.

Unlike what has happened to the runner in this case, I propose the various parties be given the benefit of the doubt until such an investigation is called for and completed.

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