Athlete's doping evidence comes back to bite her
A top South African runner, whose testimony helped anti-doping authorities ban a drug-touting athletics coach for five years, has herself been suspended for a year.
Lebogang Phalula, the first black woman to win the national 800m title, was banned for three months after testing positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine in 2011, but the World Anti-Doping Agency appealed the punishment.
An appeal tribunal - appointed by the sport minister, the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, and the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport - last week announced that her suspension had been increased to two years, one of which was suspended.
Livingstone Jabanga, chairman of the Gauteng Striders club and a board member of Central Gauteng Athletics, was banned for five years after his disciplinary panel heard late last year that he had given tablets containing the stimulant to Soweto-based Phalula.
Jabanga is one of 11 people involved in athletics suspended for doping last year; four were suspensions for stimulants, four for steroids, one for dagga and one for non-compliance.
But Jabanga's suspension was the heaviest of the year and one of the toughest in South African athletics history - shorter only than the six years given to a coach for feeding drugs to his minor daughter some years back.
Phalula took tablets given to her by Jabanga after complaining that she was feeling ill before a 10km road race on August 27 2011.
Phalula had travelled to the race with Jabanga and her twin sister, Lebo, and had taken the pills without question.
"The athlete stated that Jabanga was a good man," reads the tribunal's judgment. "He was like a father to her. She had no reason to disbelieve him."
But the appeal committee pointed out that athletes are required to verify all medication they take, and that there was a precedent for athletes being punished even though their doctor had inadvertently prescribed a prohibited substance.
"She is an elite athlete having competed in international events such as the African Championships and the World Games. She is 30 years old and passed Grade 12.
"She has access to a qualified sports-medicine practitioner but did not utilise his services to ascertain whether the pills given to her by Jabanga contained prohibited substances."
The tribunal acknowledged in its judgment that, as a result of Phalula's evidence, Jabanga had been banned for five years.
"The athlete was a witness at the hearing of Jabanga and her evidence was accepted by the panel and Jabanga's denial rejected."
The one-year suspension of her two-year ban was her reward for helping to convict Jabanga.
Her ban is back-dated to September 28 2011, which means she is now free to compete.
The pregnant Phalula, however, is out of the sport for the next few months, preparing to give birth to her first child, scheduled for this weekend.