The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport used two high-profile rugby games last week to launch an anti-doping initiative designed to address recent statistics that showed a 100 per cent increase in doping offenses in South Africa.
‘I Play Fair – Say NO! To Doping’, which raises awareness to the dangers of doping and unites athletes against doping in sport, was rolled out at the Super 15 clashes between the Bulls and the Sharks, and the Cheetahs against the Stormers.
“SA doping control stats clearly show the use of performance enhancing drugs is on the increase among adolescent athletes and among the adult population,” says Shuaib Manjra, Chairman of the Institute for Drug-Free Sport.
“Our latest positive doping stats for the period 1st April 2010 to 30th March 2011, show a doubling to 50 positive tests from 19 for the year before.
“We realized we needed to tackle the problem head on in a more aggressive way that would help create a culture of anti-doping in sport.”
As part of the initiative, the South African Government will officially recognize June 18 as the ‘I Play Fair – Say No! To Doping Awareness Day’.
The campaign was given further visibility when Pretoria Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula and Bloemfontein Deputy Minister Gert Oosthuizen lead ceremonial processions on to the fields at two rugby matches.
A public service announcement featuring Springboks rugby star Bryan Habana will further communicate the campaign’s message of clean sport.
Following recent stories of steroid abuse in high-school rugby, the campaign will use the likes of Habana to highlight the problem at age group level and raise awareness of the risks of using supplements contaminated with prohibited substances.
According to Mr. Manjra, much of the rise in doping can be attributed to increased use of supplements, and the Institute of Drug-Free Sport will be targeting school rugby events to educate young athletes.
“With the recent acknowledged use of steroids in schools, we will also step up this initiative around the up and coming Craven rugby weeks, with an increased awareness drive and increased drug testing,” Mr. Manjra explained.
“We will ensure we get face time with adolescent rugby players. It is important to protect our athletes, especially high school athletes, who in many cases are unknowingly purchasing illegal steroids and are under the false impression they are taking a permissible sports supplement.”
The South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) is the first sports federation to support the campaign, and the Institute of Drug-Free Sport is hopeful others will soon follow suit.
“SARU is delighted to support this campaign, as our consistent message is that we condemn all forms of substance abuse and we are consistent and strong in our messaging on the subject at all times,” says SARU’s medical manager medical Clint Readhead.
“The taking of illegal substances compromises the health and wellness of players; it is against the ethos of the sport of rugby and is simply cheating.”
As well as the crucial support of SARU, the campaign also received the backing from WADA Director General David Howman.
“Reaching out and educating athletes as to the dangers of doping and why it is wrong is a key part of an anti-doping strategy,” said Mr. Howman.
“Doping is a huge threat to sport across the world, and it is imperative that we use all methods to promote the message of clean sport.”
The Institute is encouraging all South African athletes, coaches and fans to take an ‘I Play Fair’ pledge at www.drugfreesport.org.za.