Thursday, June 13, 2024

Doping – Botswana Athletics’ Ticking Time Bomb?  

With just two weeks to go before this year’s World Athletics championships, Botswana Athletics community once again found itself caught in the midst of a doping scandal.

A female athlete bound to compete at the Budapest 23 World Athletics championships had returned an adverse analytical finding. The doping scandal has since raised eyebrows.  

It now seems a new pattern is developing where local athletes return negative analytical findings before or during major games. Ahead of last year’s World Athletics championships in Oregon, USA, Botswana recorded two cases of doping within its senior national athletics team.

The two athletes were 800m track star and Botswana’s medal hopeful Nijel Amos and long jumper Tlhalosang Tshireletso. During the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Amantle Montsho tested positive for a banned substance.

This trend should now be a major concern for the country’s sports leadership. If the number of athletes returning negative analytical findings continue, Botswana may find herself facing a similar situation with Kenya and its athletes being targeted for more testing.

Following a rise in Kenyan athletes testing positive, an ‘unprecedented drug-testing programme’ has now been put in place. Testing ahead of the country’s National Championships and the trials for the World Athletics Championships’ shot up seven times. Interestingly, no-notice, out-of-competition testing at athletes’ homes and training camps was ramped up.

Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) along with the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) are now said to be looking at further increasing the number of tests undertaken. ‘Apart from the collection of urine and blood samples, there will be Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) and EPO tests and, for the first time, Dried Blood Spot (DBS) samples will be taken.’

AIU Head of Testing Thomas Capdevielle says they are now ‘aiming at up to 5,000 tests in the coming year, combining ADAK and AIU testing programmes.’ “This will be the new norm for Kenyan athletes – intensified, targeted and regular testing, both in and out of competition.”  

Andrew Kamanga, the head of Zone VI Regional Anti-Doping Organisation (RADO) says while the numbers of anti-doping in Botswana are low, their rise is a concern. “Numbers don’t lie. What is happening is not a good advertisement for Botswana sport and athletes,” he says.

Kamanga says while Botswana is yet to reach high doping numbers as Kenya, something needs to be done. As doping is an individual decision, he says there is a need to carry out investigations to understand why there is a spike in doping cases.

In the time being, the best solution, according to the Head of Zone VI RADO, is to ramp up anti-doping education. “We want these youngsters to flourish and develop their talent. We have to work hard to help them change their behaviour,” he suggested

“As an association, we are not happy that our athletes are caught doping. This issue of our athletes being implicated in doping does not only reflect badly on our athletes. It also reflects badly on us as the athletics controlling body in the country,” Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) vice president technical Oabona Theetso says.

The concern stems from the fact that where issues of doping continuously crop up, the association gets implicated. “Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) may now look at us in a bad light if this continues. In the end, it will seem we are manipulating results. This may eventually lead to our events sidelined from being qualifying events for major events.”

There is now a fear that if the trend continues unabated, AIU may turn its attentions to Botswana. For the BAA, the pressure now is finding out what could be leading athletes to take banned substances. As it is, no study has been undertaken to ascertain what causes local athletes to use banned substances.

“It is very important that all of us, athletes, administrators and stakeholders, ensure that we have a clean sport,” Theetso says. He believes that while there are already systems in place to curb doping, more still needs to be done.

To this end, BAA is continuously working with both RADO and the country’s National Anti-Doping Association (NADO) to root out doping. The three organs are continuously educating athletes on doping more especially ahead of major games.

“There are systems in place to stop doping. However, our major problem is testing. Most of our testing is done during competitions and less is done during off season. We need to do more here,” Theetso advices.

Unfortunately for Botswana, testing athletes is an expensive undertaking. While the government does put money into sport, the available resources are inadequate to ensure continuous testing. “Collecting samples and testing is not the problem,” Kamanga, Head of Zone VI RADO says. “The expensive part is the logistics to take samples for testing as well as the actual analysis of samples. As you know, Botswana does not have accredited laboratories to test. Samples are therefore sent to Bloemfontein in South Africa for tests,” he concludes.

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