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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs