Nipping drugs in the bud

2014-11-06 00:00

DURBAN — Sports medicine experts, school heads and sports administrators are hailing a breakthrough week in their battle against school pupils using steroids and illegal performance enhancing drugs.

This after Parliament discussed key draft amendments that will pave the way for improved testing and sanctions.

Representatives from the Department of Basic Education joined forces with the Department of Sport and Recreation to brief Parliament on draft changes to the South African Schools Act that will facilitate random drug testing at schools, with recommended sanctions for those caught using steroids and banned stimulants.

South Africa will become the first country in the world where random steroids testing of minors in schools is allowed.

“These proposed changes to the current legislation are essential,” said Dr Glen Hagemann, the director of the SharkSmart programme that has driven a strong anti-steroid message into its 23 partner high schools in KwaZulu-Natal for more than a decade.

“The fundamental stumbling blocks in the law has made this difficult to implement in the manner that was envisaged,” said Hagemann. “These proposed changes to the SA Schools Act will effectively remove those stumbling blocks and allow us to treat school pupils similarly to senior athletes.”

Fahmy Galant, general manager of the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport (Saids) also gave his support to the legislation changes. “It is a huge stepping stone as it finally gives us jurisdiction over the schools that we lacked with the current initiative,” he said. “We had to get special permission from Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) to take this step. While there may be some that are still sceptical, we are confident this will make a difference.”

Galant confirmed that the current Saids steroids testing programme by nomination was still continuing in KwaZulu-Natal, where he said there was excellent support from high schools.

Last year, SharkSmart and Saids launched the ground-breaking steroid-testing programme that centred on the 23 KwaZulu-Natal high schools participating in the SharkSmart programme.

This involved planned testing by consent of nominated athletes for steroids use.

This week’s briefing to Parliament’s portfolio committees outlined important amendments proposed to the Schools Act that will pave the way for not only the scheduled tests for steroid usage but also for random surprise tests throughout the year.

If the working groups have their way, the draft amendments will be tabled in Parliament for approval early next year.

Saids will distribute guidelines for sanctions to the schools, which will ultimately be responsible for sanctioning pupils caught using steroids. Sanctions for such transgressions have not been determined and will be an important part of the consultative process.

The Department of Basic Education has stressed that the latest initiative will balance punishment with education of pupils, parents, coaches, teachers and governing bodies and, where necessary, rehabilitation of offenders.

Research conducted by Discovery SharkSmart in recent years has highlighted the prevalence of steroid usage in high schools, with a significant proportion of that steroid used for cosmetic purposes such as “bulking up” their physiques.

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