- South Africans are quick to pick a side in doping cases but each case, even Chiliboy Ralepelle's third, deserves to be treated on its merits.
- Ralepelle's case, as was Ludwick Mamabolo's before him, has lesson for all athletes to learn.
- Ultramarathon runner Mamabolo was cleared after a series of doping rule violations in his testing following his 2012 Comrades marathon victory.
- Aphiwe Dyantyi, who was found with high-calibre steroidal substances, is in a fight to prove he was not culpable for the drugs getting into his system.
There is no excusing doping.
It is one of the vilest acts of unsporting behaviour and, in some countries, it's considered a crime. But like all crimes, in the legal sense, the police, prosecutor, judge and jury have a legal construct under which they must operate, otherwise their efforts to catch and convict perpetrators gets undermined.
US sprinter Marion Jones served jail time for perjury, lying to the FBI about ever taking performance enhancing drugs, and Lance Armstrong, once a hero, is a pariah and serves as the demi-devil of how to run a sophisticated doping programme.
South African athletes are by no means immune to the scourge. The much-publicised cases ranging from Johan Ackermann in the late 1990s to Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson in 2010, Luvo Manyonga (recreational) and Simon Magakwe (evading a test) prove the point.
South Africans have been quick to pick a side - supposedly like in any high-profile criminal case - but each matter deserves to be looked at on its merits, otherwise public understanding of the doping control process gets lost.
For instance, this third case involving Springbok hooker Ralepelle, who was banned for eight years this week for testing positive for banned anabolic agent Zeranol. It serves as a good lesson for Bok winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, who is in the dock for having a cocktail of steroidal substances in his system.
It's easy to say, "It's the third time, he did it!" But no one learns anything standing in the front row of a public lynching, screaming "Gotcha!"
Rooting out doping isn't a simple case of saying don't do it and if you're found with traces of a banned substance you get convicted.
The Ludwick Mamabolo bungle
The 2012 case involving Ludwick Mamabolo (as should the latest involving Ralepelle) was a perfect lesson in how due process is as important in the doping mechanism as the scientific lab testing.
In the 45-page adjudication hearing report on the Comrades marathon winner, who tested positive for banned stimulant methylhexaneamine right after his 3 June 2012 win, the independent doping panel including Dr Sello Motaung, Mandla Tshabalala, Greg Fredericks and Michael Murphy found some damning doping control practices that happened after he crossed the finish line.
We all know Mamabolo was cleared, but do we know he didn't dispute this lab findings, the chain of custody nor the reputation of the Bloemfontein testing lab? So how was he cleared?
It's not simple. Mamabolo, the report found, had been given at least two or three open Energade bottles not coming from the prescribed Doping Control Station but from members of the public, one of which the report says was Springbok Bismarck du Plessis. (For clarity, this does not imply any malice on Du Plessis's part nor was it proved that his drink was the source of contamination.)
The South African Institute for Drug-free Sport (SAIDS) - who were lauded as being forthright, forthcoming and their conduct "exemplary" during the hearing - admitted that there was a lack of accredited SAIDS officials at the finish and that most athletes were chaperoned not by accredited doping control officers (DCO) but by Comrades appointed officials.
"The individuals who acted as chaperones - but were not SAIDS accredited - did not have the relevant training," the report said.
Despite finishing first, Mamabolo was notified last that he was going to be tested, more than 20 minutes after he crossed the finish. He was also not informed of his rights and responsibilities prior to testing.
Moreover, the SAIDS records did not record that Mamabolo had consumed two, perhaps three, unsealed drinks prior to testing.
"Save for the issue of notification occurring as soon as possible, each of these aspects is a clear instance of non-compliance with the letter of the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and/or SAIDS documents," the report continued.
Article 7 of the SAIDS Doping Rules states: " If irregularities are reasonably considered to undermine the validity of the Adverse Analytical Finding, SAIDS shall declare the test result void."
Mind you, the report states that Mamabolo was coerced into pleading guilty right at the beginning of his case. But he was, fortunately for his sake, stubborn and refused getting bullied into a guilty plea just to get a lighter sentence.
Ralepelle's third doping case
To segue back to Ralepelle, the 33-year-old and his lawyer Hendrik Hugo, claim that there were multiple violations in the DCO's handling of the doping control environment when he was tested January 2019, as well as the handling of samples subsequently, which might have compromised the credibility and even the outcome of the test.
He told Sport24 on Thursday that he gave a partial sample, which was not sealed and recorded as such, and then gave another sample on top of the 30ml partial sample, in the same container, to meet the 90mi minimum sample requirement. This is clearly against WADA regulations.
Moreover, he alleges that he was allowed to shower and do recovery, in the process taking a swing of a non-DCO issued drink of water (from a team bottle).
There was even a witness, he claimed, who was a teammate that refused to testify on his behalf as to the goings on of that day.
The DCO also kept sample of urine in his person prior to sending them to the lab for testing, according to Ralepelle, and, alarmingly, there is a 12-hour unaccounted for period during the transportation of his sample to the Bloemfontein lab, allegedly. (Side note: Zeranol is a growth hormone commonly found in beef). It's therefore alarming that samples would be kept in an officer's personal fridge at home (again, if Ralepelle's claims are true).
Hugo said there were more questionable procedural occurrences, each of needed to be investigated on appeal, but could not divulge at that stage.
But in the case of doping law, you’re guilty until proven innocent. And "innocence" is a unicorn concept that does not materially exist in cases where banned substances are found in a player’s system.
It’s whether, assuming correct collection procedures weren’t compromised, the player wittingly or unwittingly consumed banned substances. If it’s the latter, the player has to provide irrefutable proof in the form of testimony, testing of everything he consumed and, even, testing of fellow professionals and people with which he came into contact.
Camera footage probably saved Mamabolo's bacon, because of the high-profile attention paid to the finish after Comrades, but it’s rare that such evidence exists in out-of-competition testing.
So it's Ralepelle's word against the DCO's. Who is the panel likely to believe? A SAIDS official or a previously convicted doper? Ralepelle could argue that the idea of a fair hearing is already flawed on that basis and, if it's within statutes, could request a panel consisting of a retired judge or legal professionals, instead of sports administrators (as is sometimes the case).
But if he took the drugs, then eight years is the least he deserves.
What does this mean for Dyantyi?
What it means is that players ought to study the doping process, read previous verdicts, rules, take the SAIDS doping training sessions seriously, and be belligerent when getting tested to ensure SAIDS's own rules are followed.
Dyantyi, who was tested this time last year, almost to the day, sent various supplements for lab testing in an effort to show that the metandienone, methyltestosterone and LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) was not of his doing.
It's an odd concept, to claim ignorance when 99% of the time when you consume something you're the one bringing the hand towards your mouth. And this is the basis for all anti-doping agency arguments: the onus and culpability are on you, the player.
You must enter the realms of the nigh-impossible to believe, to prove your "innocence". American sprinter and 2016 Rio Games 4x400 relay gold medallist Gil Roberts claimed that a passionate kiss with his girlfriend Alex Salazar was the cause of the finding of probenecid, a masking agent, in his system.
Roberts said she was sick and had taken sinus medication for her illness and, through the act of passionate (assuming) French kissing, he contracted the substance.
Wait, there's more. Tennis star Richard Gasquet got a mere two-and-a-half-month ban after cocaine was found in his system. His reason? A kiss with a stranger in a nightclub.
This is not to say Dyantyi or Ralepelle could remotely claim that their intimate partners are to blame for steroidal substances being found in their system but to indicate to a largely ignorant public (and sporting community) that doping cases have more grey area granite kitchen tops.
Dyantyi could face four or even eight years if found guilty. But he maintains he's not guilty. Despite that, he has already served a year’s sentence no matter the outcome, which he will never get back.
If found guilty, the book will be thrown at him and he will be at least 29 years old by the time he comes back.
Meanwhile, he and other athletes should use Ralepelle's case as casual studying for his defence and to avoid future pitfalls. Whether Ralepelle succeeds or fails in overturning his eight-year ban, it would have served a purpose.
It’s a lesson that if you touch (or kiss) anything, be sure it can and will be used against you and a doping official knocking at your door is not a casual visit to see know your rehab is going. You will, as the cool kids say, "get got".