Widespread drug use in sport


When Hansa Wannenburg went to her son’s house to straighten his drawers - as she often did - she found something that sent chills down her spine. In Pedrie’s bedside cupboard was a tiny straw and she instantly knew her Blue Bulls son was using cocaine.

He was overseas at the time. On his return his brother, Callie, handed him a letter from his parents. In it Hansa and Carl told him how worried they were about him.

The story of Pedrie’s drug abuse, which recently appeared in Finesse magazine, has once again made South Africans sit up and wonder how many more of our top sportspeople are using recreational drugs.

One person who knows all too well what Pedrie has been through is former Bulls teammate and friend Joost van der Westhuizen.

“I learnt my lesson the hard way. I hope others will learn from my mistakes,” he says. “I said from the start if my story helps only one person it would all have been worth it. But since my book came out dozens of people have thanked me for helping them get off the wrong path.”

The drinking culture in rugby is one of many factors that cause players to stumble, says Professor Tim Noakes of the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town.

He believes drug and alcohol abuse are more common among sportsmen and -women in South Africa than people realise.

“I know in American football and Australian rugby and rugby league there’s an acknowledged problem with cocaine abuse and that tells me it probably happens among our own players,” he says.

Idleness and deficient life skills contribute to making drugs attractive to sportspeople, Professor Noakes says.

“These guys have lots of money but often don’t have the life skills to manage it properly so they become easy targets for drug dealers,” Professor Noakes says.

Joost agrees with this view in his autobiography. He writes how his values became warped amid his rugby fame and how this eventually led to alcohol and drug abuse.

It’s difficult for a sports star to stay on the straight and narrow, Professor Noakes feels. “I asked successful Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid how he has managed to still play for the national team after 10 years and just get better and better. His answer was it’s because he comes from a middle-class family.

“He said players who grew up poorer have never learnt to work with money and those from a wealthier background don’t take the trouble to work as hard as he does.”

Sports stars are also celebrities, which increases the temptation to use drugs, executive head of the South African Institute for Drug-free Sport Khalid Galant says. Cocaine, dagga and tik (methamphetamine) are athletes’ most popular drugs.

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