Hero to rogue faster than Bolt

The truth is the cliché of money be­ing the root of all evil, writes DAVID KNOWLES.

Weekend Witness - - Talking Sport -

LANCE Arm­strong’s rev­e­la­tions on us­ing banned sub­stances in all his seven Tour de France wins, has left the sport­ing world reel­ing.

An in­spi­ra­tion to many, he has been tossed on the rub­bish heap by many, seen as a cheat, a liar and more than a fallen hero. He has gone from hero to rogue faster than Usain Bolt, with­out drugs (we hope), runs the 100 me­tres.

It’s tar­nished sport, not just cy­cling, and, for the purists, begs the ques­tion of what hap­pened in the days when sport was a gen­uine con­test be­tween teams or in­di­vid­u­als, where the win­ner was de­ter­mined through raw abil­ity, hon­est stamina and nat­u­ral tal­ent.

The only boost al­lowed was a drink of water in more in­stances and the win­ner of a con­test knew it was be­cause he or she was bet­ter on the day, no ques­tions asked. Now there is doubt in all codes. Past vic­to­ries are be­ing dis­cussed and dis­sected — was it done hon­estly? Did the vic­tor ac­tu­ally cheat to get a bet­ter ad­van­tage over the rest of the field? Is the win­ner, in most in­stances, an overnight sport­ing god to coun­try and ci­ti­zens or does he/she har­bour a dark in­ner se­cret which only con­stant tor­ment and a guilty con­science can un­cover?

There’s much to con­sider, but the sad off­shoot of such a scan­dal in pro­fes­sional sport is the scourge of hop­ing to per­form bet­ter spread­ing into school sport and a win at all costs at­ti­tude. There’s no doubt there is in­tense pride and pres­sure at school level in all sport codes and sadly, in South Africa, it’s no se­cret that steroids and per­for­mance en­hanc­ing sub­stances are be­ing used to reach a de­sired level and achieve the ul­ti­mate re­sult.

It’s bla­tant cheat­ing. Look­ing back through the his­tory of sport, it’s fright­en­ing to see how long it took for an ath­lete to run a sub four­minute mile. Back then, Roger Ban­nis­ter re­lied on his God-given tal­ent, his will and drive to cre­ate his­tory and set a new sport­ing stan­dard. He trained hard, he pre­pared phys­i­cally and men­tally and he went out there and achieved what was then seen as the “im­pos­si­ble”. It was only seen as that be­cause no-one be­lieved the hu­man body, in it’s raw state with­out any en­hance­ment, could achieve such a mile­stone. It’s his­tory that it was achieved, but since then, ath­letic records have con­tin­ued to tum­ble left and right, with rel­a­tive ease as, some­how, the hu­man body gains new zeniths.

How is this pos­si­ble? Is there some­thing dif­fer­ent in the food we eat, the life­styles we en­joy? Truth is, it’s none of the above, but rather the old cliché of money be­ing the root of all evil. The bet­ter an ath­lete “per­forms”, the more en­dorse­ments re­sult, the more pres­tige, the more money. To a school sports­man, it’s an­other world, the world where he or she wants to be one day and sadly, in this day and age, it’s a case of not giv­ing a con­ti­nen­tal on what means and mea­sures are taken to get there.

The South African In­sti­tute for Drug Free Sport (Saids) CEO Khalid Galant has said: “It’s an open se­cret that per­for­mance en­hanc­ing drugs and sub­stances are taken at schools.”

That’s a bold state­ment. Many peo­ple re­spond with, “but it’s been hap­pen­ing for so long”. Well then in­stead of sit­ting back, let some­thing be down about it. Let’s put the fear of God into any­one who takes a chance and tests pos­i­tive for us­ing th­ese sub­stances. Let’s pun­ish them harshly and send a mes­sage that drugs in sport, no mat­ter what level, will not be tol­er­ated.

Saids has taken on that role, launch­ing a coun­try­wide schools pro­gramme ear­lier this week, speak­ing to par­ents, pupils and coaches on the dan­ger of tak­ing drugs and play­ing sport.

Talk school­boy sport with any­one and they will tell you how teenage boys are big­ger than an av­er­age man and carry more mus­cle. It’s plain to see some­thing is not right. That can­not be right. Turn on the tele­vi­sion to see a live school­boy rugby match and the boys, school­boys, are big­ger than your av­er­age club player, some look­ing bet­ter than pro­vin­cial play­ers. Surely this can­not be.

Evo­lu­tion does not al­low this. There are stages of devel­op­ment and growth which the body moves through and the only rea­son school­boys mus­cle up and get big­ger has to be from mus­cle devel­op­ment en­hancers and the like. There is no way just go­ing to the gym is go­ing to de­velop the body so quickly.

Un­for­tu­nately, rugby is the sport most as­so­ci­ated with banned sub­stances at school level.

Noel In­gle, chair­per­son of school­boy rugby in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “There is no place for drugs in any sport at any level. It’s hard to de­ter­mine if and when th­ese sub­stances are be­ing used, but ev­ery year at Craven Week, play­ers from ev­ery team are ran­domly tested. In all the years I have been in­volved, no KZN player has tested pos­i­tive.”

He also men­tioned the cost in­volved per test, nearly R3 000, but Saids has since con­firmed they will do tests at school level free of charge from now on. That’s a great move as it al­lows more fre­quent test­ing and sends a clear mes­sage that play­ers “cheat’ at their own peril.

Glen Hagemann, founder of the Dis­cov­ery Sharks Smart school ini­tia­tive which specif­i­cally fo­cuses on drugs and steroids at schools, said: “Sure, the prob­lem is there, but it is not as rife as one may think.”

As In­gle stated, “One drug user is one too many,” but Hagemann pointed out that in many in­stances, pupils who used steroids were not sports­men. They took sub­stances to tone up, look good and boost their physique, to fit in with the crowd.

“It be­comes more of a life­style drug and a health risk in th­ese in­stances. Sur­veys have shown that up to 50% of school pupils use steroids and of th­ese, 30% are sports­men. They do not see it as cheat­ing. To them, muscling up en­ables them to com­pete on the field and stand up to the op­po­si­tion,” he said.

Hagemann added that his re­search had shown that use of steroids was en­tirely the pupil’s de­ci­sion.

“No coaches were named or blamed and pupils said they were never un­der pres­sure to per­form. They know what they are tak­ing and most do it with­out any­one know­ing.”

That may be so, but the bot­tom line is it’s cheat­ing, oth­er­wise why would pupils take such sub­stances.

In­gle, Hagemann and a host of school coaches have sup­ported the Saids ini­tia­tive, which is in KwaZulu-Natal on Fe­bru­ary 12, at Kearsney Col­lege.

Par­ents need to get in­volved and bring their chil­dren up on the three pil­lars of be­ing a sports­man — hon­esty, in­tegrity and fair­ness, the fuel the hu­man body runs on.

PHOTO: AP

The Lance Arm­strong saga has ig­nited a re­sponse from the South African In­sti­tute for Drug Free Sport (Saids).

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