Outrage over doping in professional sport

Worldwide, governments and professional sporting bodies have expressed their outrage that the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs in professional sport has yet again come to the fore.

Many South African sporting professionals too, have been tested, and found positive for banned substances, with authorities claiming, to enhance their performance. This alarming trend is highlighted in recent statistics released by the SA Institute for Drug Free Sport revealing 55 doping violations between April 2011 and June 2012.

Whereas some athletes use drugs to seek a competitive advantage, others, including amateurs, may inadvertently consume banned ingredients through sports nutrition products. This is according to Deon Lewis, Managing Director of Cipla Nutrition, the recently launched sports supplement brand which is a brand extension of leading JSE-listed South African pharmaceutical company, Cipla Medpro.

“Doping in professional sport is not a new phenomenon, and has been happening for a long time. Doping unfortunately happens in many sports and the products used by dopers are often not illegal, that is, it is not a criminal offence to take them. However, these substances are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), as they are seen as an enhancing stimulant, and as such, are banned in professional sport,” says Lewis.

People who been found guilty

He says that the problem of doping in sport is a complicated one and cannot be solved by merely punishing those who have doped. “This is due to the fact that many athletes are often unaware that they could be taking a banned substance, often found in their nutritional supplements. This is what happened to South African rugby players Bjorn Basson and Chiliboy Ralepelle in late 2010, who both tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine while on an international rugby tour.”

Lewis says compounding the problem is the fact that sports nutrition products are generally manufactured in facilities that are not regulated. “This means that products are manufactured in facilities where both ‘clean’ substances and WADA-banned substances are found under one roof.

Thus, when manufacturing takes place, both ‘clean’ and WADA-banned substances may have been used in sequential batch runs to manufacture different products in the same equipment, but the equipment may not be thoroughly cleaned or sterilized between batches. This means the opportunity for cross-contamination between non-banned and banned substances increases dramatically.

Ingredients be contaminated

Often the supplier of the raw ingredients to the manufacturer may also not be reliable, which means the ingredient could be contaminated at source and thus taint the end product. Some raw-material (ingredients) are so sensitive that they could even get contaminated (with other raw material) in storage just from being placed next to each other on the same shelf.

With no regulation or legislation in place in the manufacture of these supplements, there is very little guarantee that many sports nutrition products are not contaminated with WADA-banned substances.”

He explains that consumers cannot therefore be guaranteed of the safety and quality of ingredients that many sports nutrition products claim to possess. However, he says that even though it is an unregulated industry, products that are manufactured in an approved Medicines Control Council (MCC)-licensed facility that has also been certified for current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP), could potentially be much safer.

“The MCC in South Africa governs the medicines landscape to ensure that all medicines available to the public meet strict criteria. When a product is manufactured in a (MCC)-licensed facility, it means that the product manufacturing complies to good quality and efficacy standards.

“Better controls in terms of doping tests also need to be implemented locally.  Although it is an expensive process to continually test athletes, the Biological Passport screening method, recently implemented in South Africa, could help curb this issue. This method, a DNA fingerprint, essentially monitors selected biological markers in athletes, whose abnormal variations could indicate doping.

If inconsistencies are picked up, further tests can then be conducted to confirm whether the athlete is indeed doping. By building up a history of the athletes in a computerised system and testing various samples in relation to new ones, it is possible to effectively tackle the growing issue of doping.”

Professional athletes should be cautious

“As a starting point, aspiring and professional athletes should ensure their sports nutrition products are manufactured in a MCC-licensed and cGMP-certified facility, supporting the manufacturing of high quality products in a controlled environment. This could potentially reduce the risk of consuming products contaminated with banned substances.

He says that the problem is aggravated by an interest in stimulants and anabolic agents at an early age. “Amateur athletes that show potential in turning professional, often start taking the enhancers at an early age. Many athletes feel the competitive pressure at this early stage of their careers, and take products irresponsibly.”

Lewis adds that sports nutrition products should also carry an age restriction and those products taken by promising young sports athletes should be supervised by their parents, guardians or coaches, to ensure that they use optimal and safe sports nutrition.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9937 votes
72% - 25974 votes