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

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground 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.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid