Nipping the drug culture in the bud

WAS Sireli Naqelevuki a victim of circumstances? That is the fleeting
question some might be asking now six days after he made headlines again for
what the Fiji Rugby Union now realises is a bigger problem than earlier
thought.

The Strict Liability clause stipulated by the World Anti-Doping Agency states
"Athletes should know that under the code, they are strictly liable whenever a
prohibited substance is found in their bodily system."

We can only guess that over half of our sporting population does not know of
the Anti-Doping Rules and regulations until it's too late.

It may have come too late for Sireli Naqelevuki after testing positive for a
banned substance last year at the George 7s, as revealed this week.

Too late in the sense that for Fiji rugby players or sportsman and women,
there is no mechanism in place to help avoid such situations.

Also because the FRU has only now taken a more proactive measure in trying to
rid the rugby community of the "drugs culture."

One questions whether anything thing short of a "fail-safe mechanism" was put
in place when then Canterbury Crusader Vilimone Delasau suffered the same fate
two years ago.

Delasau fell from grace.

Now the former Western Province flyer has to take his time in the bin.

And whatever decisions the International Rugby Board dishes out to one of
Fiji's most promising rugby player, he will be forever branded by our
unforgiving rugby public.

With speculation on the matter already rife, it is only fair that things be
put in the right perspective for the sake of a great rugby son.

Peer pressure and the growing drug culture in Fiji have challenged all
aspects of Fiji life.

Today it poses a major worry for our rugby ambassadors going overseas who
picked up the habit in their school days.

One puff could mean the difference between a mediocre earning salary in Fiji
and a $100,000 plus rugby contract overseas. But is it fair to brand our
athletes as criminals?

Most have been quick to brand Naqelevuki.

What must be questioned now is who was there in the first place to guide
him?

It points out the absence of an educational and awareness program sorely
fitted for drugs in sports.

So again was Naqelevuki a victim of circumstances, of the situation or is he
liable for his own actions?

Let's not yet point the finger before the IRB passes the judgment yet as the
Western Stormers have already done this week.

"Stormers coach Kobus van der Merwe said the issue was not whether Naqelevuki
might be absolved, but rather the message that will be sent if he was allowed to
play for the Stormers again.

"Many Stormers supporters are young people. The message we would be sending
out would be: You could become a Stormers player and it's all right to smoke
grass," Van der Merwe said.

Though endless pits of literature exist on the matter, the question has
always been on its accessibility and dissemination at a level which requires the
message to hit home.

Sadly, for the ill-informed the imagery that comes with "banned drugs in
sports" is Steroids or the famous Ben Johnson scandal from the 1988 Seoul
Olympics.

"No one knew that marijuana was also on the banned list."

We all know drugs are bad but in sports it becomes quite complicated when
even certain cough mixtures are also on the banned list.

"Which is why we need to impose more strictly programs that will adhere to
this from community level,'' says newly established Oceania Regional Anti-Doping
officer Natanya Potoi.

Potoi has the grave task of helping facilitate programs in Fiji and the
region to raise awareness on this issue.

"No longer can we sweep issues of drugs usage in sports under the carpet,''
said Potoi.

"Our priority here at RADO is first and foremost to drive through to all the
Rules and Regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency programs.

"That is education and awareness and teaching people if this is what they do
then prepare for this.

"We cannot simply brand athletes as criminals; it is not fair because they
have not been fed the right information.

"The problem is that many think only performance enhancing drugs are on the
banned list.

"Recreational drugs or social drugs are on the list because they meet two of
the three criterias set down of WADA, which is the minimum level for any drug to
be included in the Prohibited List,'' Potoi adds.

To be included on the banned list, drugs must meet three criteria's as
follows:

  1. Usage of drug in a way dampens the Spirit of the Sport.
  2. Enhances performance
  3. Is harmful to athletes (health issue)

For reasons 1 and 3, social drugs makes it into the prohibited list.

Compared to other sports

Rugby compared to other sports has not been exposed to the ugly side of drug
usage to enhance performance.

Those who have had their brush with law recently include the likes of Wendell
Sailor and before the new millennium former England captain Lawrence Dellaglio.
Though the latter was never proven guilty, allegations that he dealt hard drugs
like cocaine and ecstasy drove him to resign his captaincy in 1999.

Sailor however, has been banned from International rugby for two years in
what could prove to be a career ender.

When Tim Ricketts was appointed as the IRB Anti-Doping manager last April he
has vowed to rid the sport of this practice.

In March, the same year the International Rugby Board (IRB) became the first
international federation to undertake a sport-specific education outreach
program, 'Keep Rugby Clean', in partnership with WADA, the World Anti-Doping
Agency with Ricketts at the helm.

The initiative l was launched in Durban, South Africa, at an anti-doping
seminar for players and officials participating in the IRB under 19 World
Championship 2005.

Ricketts explained to the 750 players and officials the testing procedures
that they can expect to encounter in the coming three weeks.

Potoi explained that players must understand that with random testing means
players can be pulled out of competition anytime for testing.

"Athletes must understand that this is the way sports are heading globally to
ensure a level playing field.

"Our priority is to educate here at RADO and it is a pity Sireli was not
probably well equipped with the knowledge of what may transpire at any IRB
sanctioned tournament and thus take precautions to avoid being tested positive
for any banned substance.

Potoi said many have put forward the argument that they are victims of
passive smoking.

"Because of the liability clause we just tell them you should have known
better to remove yourself from that environment.

"We can post all sorts of argument, but at the end of the day what matters is
that the banned substance was found in your system.

"Education and awareness programs must be ongoing in the region, we have a
big task this year especially in light of the upcoming South Pacific Games in
Samoa where random drug testing will be carried out.

Potoi hopes sports federations will make use of opportunities in 2007 to help
their athletes and officials understand the Rules and Regulations of the World
Anti-Doping Agency.

"It's a global issue now, every sports federation must have Anti-Doping
programs, we can no longer sweep these issues under the carpet.

"The reality is with the demands and requirements of sports today, drugs
whether performance enhancing or not become an alternative.




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