Mon Dec 05 10:30:18 SAST 2016

School rugby hit by steroid scandal

PREGA GOVENDER | 2011-05-30 06:01:54.00 Comments
The King Edward VII first rugby team being congratulated by their schoolmates yesterday after thrashing Westville Boys' High 21-10. None of the players pictured is connected to the steroids controversy Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

A shocking survey has revealed that schoolboy rugby players are using illegal anabolic steroids.

This follows tests conducted on pupils at 18 of the country's top schools in which 21 out of 130 pupils - or roughly one in six - tested positive for a variety of illegal steroids .

One school has now set aside R100000 for more tests while a doctor said he was treating at least 12 schoolboys a month to wean them off steroids.

In a recent newsletter, Michaelhouse principal Guy Pearson told parents of concerns about "the size of schoolboys who we tend to come up against in our fixtures and festivals".

Commissioned independently by various schools, Johannesburg company Drug Detection International sent urine samples for analysis to a forensic laboratory in the US. They found positive results for:

  • Two pupils of St Albans, Pretoria;
  • Three pupils of King Edward VII in Johannesburg; and
  • Found that one boy from St John's in Johannesburg had twice the amount of testosterone levels for a teenager his age.

Fifteen of the other pupils who tested positive were from four private schools in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

At least 12 of these pupils were caught with banned steroids in their possession.

The company declined to disclose the names of the other schools at which pupils tested positive for steroids.

Dr Jon Patricios, sports physician and president of the SA Sports Medicine Association, said there was "massive abuse" of steroids among pupils.

"There's a big emphasis on making it into the Craven Week sides. If you don't make it into Craven Week, you are really lost in the rugby wilderness, because there are no prospects of bursaries and selection for provincial teams."

He said parents were increasingly complaining of finding steroids in their sons' possession, adding: "Some say they can't believe the sudden changes in the size (of their sons)."

He said he was seeing at least a dozen parents a month on steroid-related issues involving their children.

"A pupil told me that half of the first-team rugby squad at his school were on steroids."

Testosterone - an anabolic steroid which produces increased levels of strength, endurance and muscular development - can cause cardiovascular disease.

The side effects of steroids include high blood pressure, heart enlargement, high cholesterol, liver and kidney damage, infertility and acne, while the psychological effects include aggression and depression.

Other schools involved in the initial round of tests and where boys tested negative included St David's Marist Inanda in Johannesburg and Pretoria Boys' High, where 10 players in the school's first rugby teams were tested. The school has 1550 pupils and 28 rugby teams.

St Albans have also slapped boys who test positive with "community service" whereby they serve as linesmen in some cases.

Principal Tom Hamilton said: "What we have discovered ... was that it was not about gaining an advantage or cheating. It was all about boys wanting to have big bodies and to look good when they put their shirts on."

Schools are charged R1500 to have a single pupil tested. In cases where pupils test positive, their parents will have to cough up for follow-up tests.

St Albans has set aside R100000 for drug testing over the next three years.

Drug Detection International said that pupils of other top schools in the country, including St Stithians, Kearsney and Hilton College, as well as Jeppe Boys' High, St Benedicts and Clifton Boys High, will be tested over the next two months.

Owner Riaan de Vries said at least 60% of those who tested positive were sportsmen, while the other 40% wanted to improve their image.

The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport, which conducts anti-doping sessions at schools around the country, said it would, for the first time, be conducting tests for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs at schools.

From next year, schools in KwaZulu-Natal which are planning to become accredited to the Discovery SharkSmart Schools of Excellence programme, to which Hilton College and Michaelhouse are affiliated, will have to consent to pupils being tested for steroids.

"The unfortunate thing with all of this is that we test rugby players and oarsmen, but a lot of the boys on these steroids were not sportsmen. It's a vanity thing."

Bobby Soobrayan, Director-General of the Department of Basic Education, said the department had not noted steroid use as a serious problem.

Grant Nupen, principal of Bishops in Cape Town, said his school conducted random drug tests for recreational drugs, but not steroids.

Johan Volsteedt, principal of Grey College in Bloemfontein, said they were finalising a policy on testing for steroids.

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