SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport CEO Khalid Galant talks to SA RUGBY magazine's Simon Borchardt about the six positive tests at this year’s U18 Craven Week, putting resources into investigations and why rugby players shouldn’t take supplements.
Doping in schools rugby: South Africa’s dangerous cocktail
The number of positive drug tests at the U18 Craven Week was three in 2014, five in 2015, four in 2016 and three in 2017. Were you surprised that there were six this year?
The number was surprising, considering the educational sessions we have had at the top rugby schools and at Craven Week. We work with the SA Rugby Legends Association, so [former Springbok flank] Corné Krige, for example, presented a session at his alma mater, Paarl Boys’ High. At Craven Week, there was a lot of interest from the boys after the sessions we had with all the teams, so one would have expected the number of positive tests at Craven Week to decrease.
You’ve said the big concern of Saids [SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport] is not the six positive tests, but the qualitative nature
of them. What do you mean by that?
These boys are testing positive for a cocktail of steroids, which is what bodybuilders use. This is not the accidental use of a banned substance from supplements, the drugs are mostly injected through a needle. I’ll give an example of why taking a cocktail is so dangerous. A boy will take a very strong steroid, which is anabolic and androgenic. One of the side-effects is that he will develop breasts, like a woman. To prevent that from happening, he needs to take Tamoxifen, which is used to treat breast cancer. That will ensure the boy’s chest remains flat, but because of what he is now taking, he becomes really aggressive and suffers from insomnia, so he has to take something else. Kids as young as 15 years old have an understanding of a pharmacological diet. It’s not like they are taking these steroids every day. They have to cycle in and cycle out, and the dosages vary.
Related: Doping in rugby – an investigation
Over 400 boys participated at this year’s Craven Week. Why did Saids test only 122 of them and was the testing random?
It’s unreasonable to expect every boy to be tested, because then you’re assuming that testing is the panacea (something that will solve all problems). We don’t have a speed camera every 100m on the road; they are only where speeding is considered to be more likely. Do the cameras deter drivers from speeding? Maybe. Do some people still speed? Yes. Do they get caught? Yes. So you can’t just rely on speed cameras, you also have to encourage behavioural change through campaigns like ‘Speed Kills’. Our testing is based on intelligence information we have received. We may have been told about drug activity at a specific school, so we will target the Craven Week team that has players from that school.
While it is random to a certain extent, there is planning that goes into it. If it was completely random and we got six positives from 122 tests, we would be concerned, because what happens if you test 150? It’s also not financially feasible to test everyone at Craven Week. One test costs R2,800 (£157). Then we have to pay the sample collection officers and the courier costs. Two of the positive tests this year required a confirmation test. If you add it up, it comes to about R4,500 (£252) a test. The minute a boy contests the test and pleads not guilty, we go to a tribunal and that’s another R20,000 (£1121), which is what it costs to prosecute him.
Have the boys who tested positive at Craven Week, and pleaded guilty, told you where they got the drugs from?
A couple of them are talking. We are doing separate interviews with them and if they give us information that can be substantiated, we will reduce their sentences. Another boy told us he got the drugs from a learner at the school, someone who isn’t involved in sport. In other cases, parents have got the drugs for their kid from a personal trainer at the gym, who isn’t a biokineticist and only has a certificate from a short course they did.
Couldn’t a boy who knows he will probably play Craven Week in July simply take steroids earlier in the season, so that by the time he gets to Craven Week the drugs are out of his system?
We were told two or three years ago that this was happening, which is why we have partnered with the SA Schools Rugby Association. We will also start testing at schools festivals and big derbies. While we will increase our testing, we are really putting resources into our investigations. We’re going to do more raids and make more arrests (of those who are supplying the drugs). The NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) needs to prosecute more of these cases.
Can you randomly test boys during school hours?
The Schools Act allows for drug-testing, but sports drug-testing has to be initiated by the headmaster, who can only do this on suspicion.
When you look at the trend of positive tests at Craven Week in recent years, can you realistically expect that number to drop next year?
I’m hoping it will, but as I said, I’m not concerned by the number, it’s the qualitative nature of the positives. If we have ten positives next year, but they are for substances consumed accidentally in supplements, I will be far less concerned.
What would your advice be to schoolboys who take supplements like protein shakes and a fat burner like Phedra Cut?
Phedra Cut is an amphetamine, so you will test positive for methylhexanamine. The one with an ‘X’ has testosterone. In 2010 Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine, which was in their protein shake (they were exonerated in 2011 as it had been provided to them by SA Rugby). You can get as much protein by drinking two Steri Stumpies (a flavoured milk drink) as you would from a protein shake and it will cost a quarter of the price. Sports supplements also have a limited effect.
Someone using them will plateau very quickly and get frustrated when they start retaining water. They then feel they need to graduate to something stronger. Unfortunately, we are fighting a losing battle against the marketing dollars or rands of the supplement companies. It’s not even a battle.
What message do you give schoolboys at an educational session? Do you try to scare them into not using drugs?
Headmasters often ask me why we don’t make our message stronger or scarier. I tell them that the difference between an anti-doping campaign and an anti-tik campaign, for example, is that with the latter you can show photos of how people looked before taking tik (methamphetamine), when they were healthy, and six months later, when their teeth are falling out.
If you show before and after photos of steroid users, they will be dik (thick around the waist) before and have a six-pack afterwards. That’s what boys want to look like. You can only scare them by explaining the effects of steroid use below the skin. You can’t see the liver or the coronary arteries of the heart. We tell them the short-term gain isn’t worth the long-term danger.
How effective are these sessions?
You can only measure how effective they are by the behavioural change they create. What did the boys know beforehand and what did they know afterwards? Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago we sent an educational officer to one of the top private schools in South Africa with a rich sporting tradition. He called me afterwards and said he felt like someone had punched him in the gut. When he took questions after the session, the kids asked him about ‘half-lifes’ (the period of time the drug is in the body is reduced by half) and when it would be out of their systems. He didn’t know anything about that and also wasn’t aware that if you take a steroid and a diuretic, you won’t test positive. Apparently the kids made fun of him on Twitter later on. Did our educational session work? I don’t know.
Do you work closely with SA Rugby, even though it has no direct jurisdiction over schoolboy rugby?
We operate independently, but SA Rugby has given us money to do more tests. Rugby is one of the top five most-tested sports in South Africa. SA Rugby also addresses doping in its BokSmart programme. I think the sponsors need to take more responsibility. The sponsors of Craven Week, the Easter festivals and teams could help to pay for more testing, which would help protect their brands.
Is part of the problem the fact that South Africa takes schools rugby too seriously, with matches being televised and the top teams ranked?
No, I don’t think so. Other countries take schools rugby seriously too. We don’t get a lot of positive tests in professional South African rugby. We do at schools level because some boys believe they have to dope with Craven Week in mind so they can get that professional contract. I think it has more to do with our values as a country and our low public confidence in public entities in general because of corruption. Some people don’t pay their taxes because they don’t think Sars is smart enough to catch them. The same applies with rugby players and Saids. Our value system needs to change.
SA RUGBY CEO JURIE ROUX SAYS …
‘SA Rugby is vehemently against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. We not only believe they are dangerous to the players’ health, but also that using PEDs is blatant cheating and goes against the ethos of the game of rugby and everything the rugby community stands for and promotes.
‘We were the first country to test at schoolboy level and remain one of the few that do. We take this issue very seriously indeed.
‘Together with the Saids outreach team, we provide education at all the touch points we have with teams under our jurisdiction: we provide education at the U16 and U18 SA Rugby Youth Weeks, the U16 and U17 Elite Player Development camps and then to all our SA Rugby national teams. We request that Saids test at the various Youth Weeks and all our national teams, and we even provide funding to Saids to assist with their testing programme. From last year we requested that Saids also test at the U16 Grant Khomo Week.
‘Our BokSmart website, BokSmart.com, is not only packed with information on the dangers of drugs and supplements in sport, it also advises you on how to eat and drink correctly for a young rugby player.
‘We also make it part of the requirements of Youth Week participation that all unions provide anti-doping education to players who are selected for their Youth Week sides.
‘SA Rugby has no jurisdiction over schools rugby but we have written directly to headmasters in the past, pointing out the dangers and their duty of care to address this issue. We congratulate those schools that have introduced testing protocols among their learners to tackle the problem at source.’
SA SCHOOLS RUGBY ASSOCIATION CHAIRMAN NOEL INGLE SAYS …
‘We were extremely disappointed and devastated to be informed that six players had tested positive for steroids at this year’s Craven Week. We’ve got an education programme in place, which every kid who attends Craven Week has to go through, yet there are still some who are prepared to risk their health – physical and psychological – by taking steroids.
‘The SA Schools Rugby Association recently drew up a new testing policy to combat steroid use among schoolboy players. Largely, the policy talks about giving permission to test at more than just our official (Youth Weeks) tournaments. So we are trying to get that under our umbrella and then it would take some of the responsibilities away from individual schools. We will also be looking at funding.
‘There will initially be an increase in testing, which we think will be more of a deterrent. With the testing comes punitive measures. We will still send out regular correspondence about the consequences of being found positive, which are dire. They can ruin a young boy’s career.’
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine.