Hero to rogue faster than Bolt

2013-01-26 00:00

LANCE Armstrong’s revelations on using banned substances in all his seven Tour de France wins, has left the sporting world reeling.

An inspiration to many, he has been tossed on the rubbish heap by many, seen as a cheat, a liar and more than a fallen hero. He has gone from hero to rogue faster than Usain Bolt, without drugs (we hope), runs the 100 metres.

It’s tarnished sport, not just cycling, and, for the purists, begs the question of what happened in the days when sport was a genuine contest between teams or individuals, where the winner was determined through raw ability, honest stamina and natural talent.

The only boost allowed was a drink of water in more instances and the winner of a contest knew it was because he or she was better on the day, no questions asked.

Now there is doubt in all codes.

Past victories are being discussed and dissected — was it done honestly? Did the victor actually cheat to get a better advantage over the rest of the field? Is the winner, in most instances, an overnight sporting god to country and citizens or does he/she harbour a dark inner secret which only constant torment and a guilty conscience can uncover?

There’s much to consider, but the sad off-shoot of such a scandal in professional sport is the scourge of hoping to perform better spreading into school sport and a win at all costs attitude. There’s no doubt there is intense pride and pressure at school level in all sport codes and sadly, in South Africa, it’s no secret that steroids and performance enhancing substances are being used to reach a desired level and achieve the ultimate result.

It’s blatant cheating. Looking back through the history of sport, it’s frightening to see how long it took for an athlete to run a sub four-minute mile. Back then, Roger Bannister relied on his God-given talent, his will and drive to create history and set a new sporting standard. He trained hard, he prepared physically and mentally and he went out there and achieved what was then seen as the “impossible”. It was only seen as that because no-one believed the human body, in it’s raw state without any enhancement, could achieve such a milestone. It’s history that it was achieved, but since then, athletic records have continued to tumble left and right, with relative ease as, somehow, the human body gains new zeniths.

How is this possible? Is there something different in the food we eat, the lifestyles we enjoy? Truth is, it’s none of the above, but rather the old cliché of money being the root of all evil. The better an athlete “performs”, the more endorsements result, the more prestige, the more money. To a school sportsman, it’s another world, the world where he or she wants to be one day and sadly, in this day and age, it’s a case of not giving a continental on what means and measures are taken to get there.

The South African Institute for Drug Free Sport (Saids) CEO Khalid Galant has said: “It’s an open secret that performance enhancing drugs and substances are taken at schools.”

That’s a bold statement. Many people respond with, “but it’s been happening for so long”. Well then instead of sitting back, let something be down about it. Let’s put the fear of God into anyone who takes a chance and tests positive for using these substances. Let’s punish them harshly and send a message that drugs in sport, no matter what level, will not be tolerated.

Saids has taken on that role, launching a countrywide schools programme earlier this week, speaking to parents, pupils and coaches on the danger of taking drugs and playing sport.

Talk schoolboy sport with anyone and they will tell you how teenage boys are bigger than an average man and carry more muscle. It’s plain to see something is not right. That cannot be right. Turn on the television to see a live schoolboy rugby match and the boys, schoolboys, are bigger than your average club player, some looking better than provincial players. Surely this cannot be.

Evolution does not allow this. There are stages of development and growth which the body moves through and the only reason schoolboys muscle up and get bigger has to be from muscle development enhancers and the like. There is no way just going to the gym is going to develop the body so quickly.

Unfortunately, rugby is the sport most associated with banned substances at school level.

Noel Ingle, chairperson of schoolboy rugby in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “There is no place for drugs in any sport at any level. It’s hard to determine if and when these substances are being used, but every year at Craven Week, players from every team are randomly tested. In all the years I have been involved, no KZN player has tested positive.”

He also mentioned the cost involved per test, nearly R3 000, but Saids has since confirmed they will do tests at school level free of charge from now on. That’s a great move as it allows more frequent testing and sends a clear message that players “cheat’ at their own peril.

Glen Hagemann, founder of the Discovery Sharks Smart school initiative which specifically focuses on drugs and steroids at schools, said: “Sure, the problem is there, but it is not as rife as one may think.”

As Ingle stated, “One drug user is one too many,” but Hagemann pointed out that in many instances, pupils who used steroids were not sportsmen. They took substances to tone up, look good and boost their physique, to fit in with the crowd.

“It becomes more of a lifestyle drug and a health risk in these instances. Surveys have shown that up to 50% of school pupils use steroids and of these, 30% are sportsmen. They do not see it as cheating. To them, muscling up enables them to compete on the field and stand up to the opposition,” he said.

Hagemann added that his research had shown that use of steroids was entirely the pupil’s decision.

“No coaches were named or blamed and pupils said they were never under pressure to perform. They know what they are taking and most do it without anyone knowing.”

That may be so, but the bottom line is it’s cheating, otherwise why would pupils take such substances.

Ingle, Hagemann and a host of school coaches have supported the Saids initiative, which is in KwaZulu-Natal on February 12, at Kearsney College.

Parents need to get involved and bring their children up on the three pillars of being a sportsman — honesty, integrity and fairness, the fuel the human body runs on.

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