News / Africa

New Sports Doping Code Leaves Room For a Bit of Magic

Delegates of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) watch the Soweto Gospel Choir perform during the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 15, 2013.
Delegates of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) watch the Soweto Gospel Choir perform during the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 15, 2013.
Anita Powell
The list of banned substances in sport is long and complex, including chemical monstrosities such as fenproporex and quinbolone.  Anti-doping officials have imposed harsher guidelines to prevent athletes from taking the performance enhancers, but in some countries, authorities are dealing with even more mysterious substances such as snake skins and monkey parts.

At the world anti-doping conference in Johannesburg, Africa's sports federations have met to share concerns about the need to regulate such traditional medicines.  

I first learned about muti, or African traditional medicine, when a professional fighter at my Johannesburg boxing gym told me about his pre-fight plans.

I’m going to the sangoma, he told me, using the word for a traditional healer.  He is going to give me muti to make me really strong.

He told me about a market where magical dealers sell powerful concoctions, made of shriveled animal parts and herbs to make you harder, better, faster, stronger.  He said the dealers also cast spells.

And so, as I found myself this week at the the world anti-doping conference discussing hard-to-pronounce chemicals and the ultra-sophisticated doping regimen of U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong, I thought of my friend.

It turns out I am not the only one concerned about this completely unregulated world of medicine.

Rafiek Mammon of South Africa’s anti-doping agency says muti is very popular in some sports and that officials walk a fine line between cultural sensitivity and concern.  

“It’s common in certain sports, especially such as boxing, and in some cases in wrestling, because there are many African people who subscribe to that kind of culture, who take the muti, and who believe in it," said Mammon. "So, who are we to tell them that their supplement is not allowed or is allowed in sport?”
 
But David Howman, the secretary-general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, says the global body has determined that herbal remedies are no threat and have not put them on the banned list.

“We had that very question asked before the Olympic Games in Beijing, as to whether Chinese traditional medicines were possibly doping substances.  All the study that has been conducted so far worldwide indicates to the contrary, that most of the herbal - I can’t say all because I just don’t know them all - but most of the herbal medicines and traditional meds have not shown to be performance-enhancing.  So we don’t have any view beyond that," said Howman.

But that, African officials say, is beside the point. Performance-enhancing substances are often concocted at great expense in high-end labs -- it is unlikely that even the most esoteric bit of muti would contain, say, dehydrochlormethyltestosterone.

The problem, Mammon says, is that no one knows exactly what they do contain.  Anecdotes abound about unscrupulous sangomas slipping illegal substances into their remedies.

“Being in Africa, we need to address it, and we need to know what it is that possibly is in it. Right now, I know that there’s HFL [a sports science institute], they’re beginning to look at the efficacy of supplements and grading it ... We need to the same with muti," he said.

Mammon said African officials have been talking about the issue on the sidelines of the anti-doping conference.

“Especially at this conference we have had very, very good interaction with other, especially African, countries that are dealing with similar problems, or challenges.  And I think the way forward would be to open up those discussions a little bit more and to have them a little bit more prominently featured," he said.

Back to my friend the boxer. Whatever he did or did not take got him safely through his drug test, and to his fight, which was a draw.  He blamed the sangoma, for not putting a better spell on his opponent.

Howman, the head of World Anti-Doping Agency, said the agency has a fairly permissive stance on curses and hexes.  He cited the warrior dance performed by members of New Zealand’s rugby team.
 
“As far as witchcraft and things are concerned, well, that seems to me to fall into the psychological category of most sports where there is some sort of mental battle and so forth that goes on.  And again, if I turn back to my own country, the national rugby team performs a haka [dance] before every game.  That’s quite a strong challenge, both mentally and otherwise, and quite an intimidation.  But it’s allowed.  And in fact, it’s respected," he said.

The new WADA code, mercifully, does not expound on many of these nuances.  But it looks like there is one thing no code can ever take out of sports: A little bit of magic.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid