JOHANNESBURG — The world anti-doping agency this week released new, stricter guidelines to stop drug-enhanced sports performances -- which recently grabbed headlines with a rash of high-profile scandals.
Hezekiel Sepeng, became a hero in South Africa after making a surprise second-place finish in an 800-meter race, at the Atlanta Summer Games. He became South Africa’s first black competitor to win an Olympic medal, in 1996.
“The way I ran, this is not normal," he recalled. "Because at one stage, I was last. When the bell went, I was last...”
But one drug test changed his life. With one positive result in 2005, Sepeng went from hero to outcast.
He claims the lab made an error. Authorities disagreed and gave him a two-year ban, effectively ending his career.
Today, the 39-year-old athlete works with the athletics federation and runs a foundation for underprivileged children. His message to them is clear:
“Cheating, it’s not good in sports. And our kids, especially you know in countries like South Africa, most of the countries in Africa, we still need to teach our kids about doping," he said.
Sepeng was just one of many athletes watching intently as the World Anti-Doping Agency further tightened its guidelines at a conference in Johannesburg this month.
The new rules double doping bans from two years to four.
Doping scandals have rocked many sports in recent years. Top athletes such as U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong and U.S. baseball player Barry Bonds have been accused of using illegal performance-enhancing substances.
WADA president John Fahey said the tougher rules come from the athletes themselves.
“The overwhelming majority of athletes around the world who said, there must be tougher penalties," he elaborated. "The standard two-year penalty that we’ve been used to so far is not good enough in the eyes of athletes. The punishment doesn’t particularly suit what they believe is important to stamp out cheating.”
Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. anti-Doping Agency, said the new rules are great, but the responsibility for following them falls to national anti-doping agencies.
“It’s a Lamborghini without an engine. If we don’t have the resources and the people to put in place, then it’s going to go nowhere," he noted, "and that’s a failure for clean athletes and the integrity of sport if we allow that to happen.”
The new code will go into effect in 2015, in time for the Rio Olympics. Anti-doping officials say they hope the new guidelines will help make those the cleanest Olympics ever.