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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs