The fight against doping, as well as specific challenges facing African football in this important endeavor, dominated discussions on the final day of the FIFA 3rd International Football Medicine Conference at Sun City, Rustenburg.

One of the key sentiments is that a lot of resources need to be invested in educating young players in Africa about doping. Recounting his experience, Kalusha Bwalya, president of the Zambian Football Association, former African football legend and a member of FIFA technical committee, said there is much to be done to spread the message of anti-doping, as well as the risks of doping.

“Growing up in Zambia, when I started playing football, there wasn’t much information around for us. We didn’t have a nutritionist, no one to tell you what to eat and what not to eat. But I learned that discipline was, and is still, the most important thing. The kind of lifestyle a player has on and off the field is very important to the progress.”

Lucas Radebe is another player who grew up in an community where little information about the dangers of doping was available to budding footballers. Raised in the dusty streets of Soweto township, Johannesburg, Radebe authored a perfect script of a rags to riches story, having ascended to the highest summit during a football career that led him to captain then English Premier League side Leeds United. Radebe, who is one of the ambassadors of the “11+” programme to prevent injuries, also captained South Africa to two consecutive FIFA World Cup appearances, before his career was thwarted by injuries that led to his retirement.

“Because of the demands of the game, at times footballers might be tempted to venture (to) take stuff that is not legal. However, in my case, no one had ever approached me about such," said Radebe. "I always wanted to be a role model. I was very cautious on what to take and what not to take, because at times you can get yourself in trouble.”

Continuing the fight
Professor Jiri Dvorak said FIFA took doping seriously and was committed to continuing the fight against it. He pointed out that in football there have been relatively few positive doping incidents, as compared with other sports. “FIFA bases its decision on scientific evidence. We have to be a reliable partner to WADA, IOC and other international federations in the collaboration to safeguard the health of our athletes and ensure the spirit of fair play in our sport,“ Dvorak said.

Dvorak said random tests of elite teams at any time provide more of a deterrence than testing solely during competitions. He stressed that at lower levels education and prevention need to be the main strategic tools. “We estimate an average cost of USD $1,000 per sample, which costs a total of 30 million per year. To catch one cheater using steroids, about USD $3 million has to be spent. Worldwide, the fight against doping costs probably USD $250 million per year.”

In his response, FIFA executive member and chairman of the FIFA Medical Committee, Michel D’Hooghe said: “I’m shocked that we have to spend so much money trying to find cheats. I think we can use that money in more benefiting projects like education and empowering the youth. I’m not saying that is not important, yes, we have to fight doping.”

Gurcharan Singh, chairman of the Asian Football Medical Committee, said developing nations face many challenges in this fight. “In some parts of the world, member associations are faced with financial constraints. There is also the challenge of lack of training for doping staff. Education creates a long-term, anti-doping culture and creates an awareness. The youth is the most vulnerable. We have to start working on them at a young age.”

Rodney Swigelaar, WADA regional director in Africa, said there was a good working relationship between WADA and FIFA. “We recognise the work that FIFA does to fight doping. In 2011, we will publish a full report. In terms of FIFA, they are fully compliant,” he said.

With regard to Africa, Swigelaar said: “If you look at Africa, compared to other regions, the continent hasn’t had to deal with many doping cases. But we need to do a lot of work. In Africa, we have two laboratories, one in Tunis, Tunisia and one in Bloemfontein, South Africa. You cannot claim to have good doping controls without laboratories, we need resources. The biggest challenge in Africa is capacity and resources. One of the keys to this will be to look at regional anti-doping agencies.”