South Africa’s schoolboy doping problem is no big secret.
After all, six players tested positive for steroids at the 2018 Craven Week, with evidence that some players had started to take banned stimulants from as young as 14.
There were only 122 players tested at the above tournament, so that’s basically a one in 20 hit rate.
The results were by no means an anomaly, either – three players tested positive for steroids at the 2017 event, four in 2016, five in 2015 and three in 2014.
Further allegations also surfaced around Shaun Huygen, the director of rugby and first team coach of Hoërskool Durbanville, in August last year.
It would be easy to accuse the BBC of sour grapes (32-12, enough said) as a motivational factor behind their recent exposé, but the truth is it’s been a long time coming.
They focused in on the case of Salmon van Huyssteen (wonderful name) to get the ball rolling:
The butcher in Salmon van Huyssteen’s home town did more than sell meat.
It also operated as an informal post office, a collection point for parcels and packages in his Pretoria suburb.
In September 2012, a delivery arrived for Van Huyssteen.
The 16-year-old, a promising number eight, wanted to fill out his frame fast. But instead of steak, sausages or some other protein hit from over the counter, a small container, wrapped in tape to hide the contents, waited for him in the back.
It had been sent by his body-building cousin and was collected by his parents. That same evening, Van Huyssteen’s mother took a syringe and injected him with a millilitre of the product, named ‘Deca 300’. In the morning, she did the same again.
Salmon, a student at Afrikaans Boys’ High School (Affies), ended up at Craven Week the following year, and was caught in a doping test, showing twice the allowed amount of the steroid nandrolone.
His story is becoming more and more familiar, and something of an open secret. Here’s Clinton van den Berg, the communications manager for SuperSport:
“Anecdotally people tell me it is happening all over schoolboy rugby,” he tells BBC Sport.
“There is a demographic of schoolboy whose great ambition is to become a professional rugby player and there are absurd amounts for contracts.
“Even if that doesn’t happen there is the possibility of being poached by another school, where the bursary system would see part of your fees being paid. There is an enormous incentive to excel – to be faster, bigger, stronger, better.
“But what you have to also understand is that a lot of schoolboys are taking ‘juice’ for vanity, not performance. It is because they want to be big and buff. That also comes into it.
“There is a big gym culture in South Africa. People love the outdoors and the beach and the guys want to look big.”
Some of the sizes of our schoolboys can be put down to good genes (and rumours of pulling tractors on farms in Paarl), but there is clearly something wrong with the culture at this level.
Not that it’s limited to schoolboys, of course. Chiliboy Ralepelle has been caught out a number of times, and the rise and fall of Aphiwe Dyanyi, who went from World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2018 to banned doper, is perhaps the most high profile of recent times.
As the BBC points out, while our numbers are worse than other countries, it’s not a problem that’s unique to our shores:
Daniel Spencer-Tonks, a former England Under-16 rugby union player banned for four years for steroid use in 2015 at the age of 20, warned that doping was “hugely widespread through all levels of rugby”.
In the wake of Sam Chalmers testing positive for two anabolic steroids while on a Scotland under-20s training camp in 2013, a 19-year-old Scottish National League player told the BBC that illegal drug use was rife north of the border as well.
When Warren Gatland left his post as Wales coach this past November, he also voiced concerns over one player he watched closely during his tenure.
We can blame the macho, ‘success at all costs’ culture for South Africa’s schoolboy doping problem, but there is also something else to factor in.
Khalid Galant, chief executive at the South African Institute of Drug-Free Sport, hits the nail on the head:
“Sport is only a mirror of our society. Currently in South Africa we are dealing with lots of corruption and ethical breaches at the highest level of leadership.
“Our society may be becoming more tolerant towards cheating as a means to achieve goals because there is also an absence of consequences.”
When you fail to see anybody held accountable for gross crimes against this country and its people, I guess an injection of steroids here and there can seem trivial.
Read the full BBC article here.
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