Cape Town – Schoolchildren caught doping to gain an edge in sport could face expulsion as a new testing programme launches on Monday.
The effort, spearheaded by the SA Institute of Drug-free Sport (Saids), is aimed at eradicating a growing trend of steroid and drug use among teenagers in schools.
"The testing will occur at any time and will not only be limited to athletes," said the institute's chief executive Khalid Galant.
The institute said the new programme would allow a school's principal or a Saids delegate to initiate the testing protocol on any pupil or group of pupils that, on fair and reasonable grounds, is suspected of doping.
Saids will then conduct the test. The Drug-free Sport Act gives the institute authority and jurisdiction to carry out drug testing across all sports codes.
He said the testing strategy was no longer about catching "in-competition" drug cheats and was rather aimed at protecting the health of children by making them realise the dangers of doping.
The list of substances that would be prohibited as part of the programme includes diuretics (which mask the presence of performance-enhancing drugs by flushing them out the system via increased urination), stimulants and steroids.
The Taylor Hooton Foundation, an international organisation focused on educating people on the effects of steroids, said anabolic steroids could be incredibly detrimental to developing bodies.
Cancer, stunted bone growth, blood clotting disorders, liver cysts, infertility and premature balding are just some of the risks attached to steroid abuse.
On Sunday it was reported that 18 out of 62 children independently tested in the past six months had positive results for drugs that were so dangerous they could lead to death.
A quick search on the internet reveals that steroids are relatively easy to come by. Many sites, even local ones, advertise legal steroids while online black markets are saturated with illegal offerings.
The institute said pupils caught using any of the banned substances could be suspended for three months or more and could even receive an outright expulsion.
"In the first year of this programme we will be closely monitoring sanctions meted out to ensure that schools take the doping offenses seriously and hand down sanctions that are consistent across the country," said Galant.
The institute said around 100 of South Africa's top schools had signed up for the programme and there was an open invitation for other schools to join in.
Galant said schools would sign an agreement with the institute and be accredited for participating in the programme and ultimately becoming a Saids-compliant school. The accreditation would have to be renewed every 12 months.
The school campaign will kick off with a national road show next week to explain the protocol on a legal and educational basis. - Additional reporting by Sapa