As word filtered through that Amantle Montsho had failed a doping test, many Batswana were shocked.
This was the same Montsho they knew, adored and admired. She had never failed a doping test, let alone be suspected of doping before.
Many theories have emerged as Batswana try to dissect what could have happened. Among the most peddled theories is that the athlete ‘had consumed an energy drink.’
While this theory has been dismissed by the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA), it raises fundamental issues about Botswana sport’s capacity to deal with issues concerning doping.
For starters, Montsho’s case is not the first of its kind in the country and will probably not be the last.
For the unitiated, the first case of Botswana’s doping case was back in 2010 when the country’s promising 800 meters male runner, Onalenna Baloyi tested positive for a banned substance. Back then, the general feeling was that the country’s lack of capable anti doping structures had a role to play in the saga.
However, with a lot supposedly done to put in proper anti doping structures ever since, questions still arise as to how Botswana’s golden girl could have fallen victim to doping.
For starters, Montsho is not like any other local athlete. She is a consummate professional ÔÇô an athlete who is expected to be aware of a lot of banned substances.
However, according to BAA Vice President Glody Dube, getting a positive sample in a doping test is possible for any athlete.
Speaking in an interview, the former athlete said with so many substances banned, athletes are unlikely to know all of them and may find themselves unintentionally caught up. Dube said as such, it is very easy for an athlete to get a positive test if proper care is not taken by the athlete or the athlete’s management team.
“When I was still an athlete, I was once warned of high caffeine levels in my samples the doctor our manager had hired for us.
Caffeine as you know is found in drinks like coffee or coke just to mention two. This is how easy it can be to be caught on the wrong side,” he explained. In the case of Montsho, the BAA Vice President said at the moment, it is not yet known what could have caused her sample to test positive.
“At the moment, we are still waiting for the results of her B sample. All we have done at this point and time is we have collected all the items that Montsho had used so that should the B Sample come positive, we can then send them to the laboratories to check what could have triggered the positive outcome,” Dube explained.
The BAA Vice President called on Batswana not to judge but to support Montsho, adding that contrary to speculation, the athlete did not test positive for drugs but rather for a banned substance.
Dube said the BAA would start working closer with all agents for local athletes to ensure they are being monitored and have regular checkups with doctors.
On how much is done locally to avert situations such as those of Montsho and Baloyi, he said the BAA is working with structures such as the Botswana’s National Anti Doping Organisation (NADO) to sensitise and test athletes on regular basis.
The BAA Vice President could however not comment on whether the existing anti doping structures in the country are sound, only saying that the local NADO was doing a great job in its mandate of testing and educating athletes.
This is despite that the local NADO is said to be operating with an interim committee, stretching back to its formation way back in 2009. Aside from this, it is said that there are no other existing complimentary structures locally to deal with disciplinary issues against local athletes found guilty of doping.
This is said to leave local athletes vulnerable to receiving harsh penalties should they test positive for banned substances as the country will have to call on experts from outside the country to convene hearings for local athletes.
Commenting on the issue, Basadi Akoonyatse, a member of BONADO, said she could not comment on structures. “We deal with the technical aspects of anti doping and that is where I can comment. I cannot comment on issues relating to existence of structures or their non existence thereof,” she said.
Akoonyatse added that as far as she is aware, the country is doing well in terms of testing and educating athletes. “The reason why we are able to compete as well as host international competitions is that we as a nation are compliant to the World Anti Doping Association rules and regulations,” the BONADO committee member said.
She said for over four years now, local athletes have been regularly tested, both in and out of competition. While the country does not have its own laboratory to test owing to the cost of erecting one, she said this is not a problem as the country has access to a WADA accredited lab in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Quizzed on whether Botswana has the capability to decide to convene a disciplinary hearing for its athletes as in other countries, Akoonyatse responded on the negative.
She said for that to happen, the country has to have legal and medical experts trained to deal with such, something which the country is yet to achieve doing.
Akoonyatse reiterated Dube’s words that what happened to the Montsho can happen to anybody.
She said athletes as well as sporting codes and federations should take more responsibility to ensure the country does not experience the same problem again.