Two doping cases attracted widespread attention in the country when two national athletes failed drug tests after the Indonesia Sea Games last November. Devinder Singh speaks to National Sports Institute chief executive Datuk Dr Ramlan Abd Aziz to find out if our athletes and officials are aware of anti-doping regulations
Question: Who is the authority on anti-doping matters worldwide and in Malaysia?
Datuk Dr Ramlan Abd Aziz
Answer: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is the authority worldwide in the fight against doping in sports. Malaysia is a member of this agency. We are signatories to two important instruments that underscore our seriousness in the fight against drug abuse in sports.
The first is the World Anti-Doping Code, which is WADA's document that we have agreed to adopt and incorporate into our national anti-doping code. This is consistent with the World Anti-Doping Code.
Another instrument is the International Convention Against Doping in Sport, which is under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
These two instruments give us the authority to fight doping in sports. In Malaysia, we have the Anti-Doping Agency of Malaysia (Adamas), which is endorsed by the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and the National Sports Council (NSC).
Question: Do our athletes have sufficient knowledge of anti-doping regulations?
Answer: Even though sports practitioners, like me, know various classes of banned substances in sports, we don't retain knowledge of every single drug. (However), it is not a problem of lack of knowledge but a problem of attitude.
Anyone with a serious ambition to further himself or herself as a world-class athlete must have the responsibility to maintain integrity in their lives, in terms of training, lifestyle, habits and general outlook. It must be consistent with their quest to become better athletes.
There are lot of materials such as books, periodicals and articles on the Internet. If people can search on the Internet for banned substances like anabolic steroids, surely they can spend some time to improve their performance by searching for information on good nutrition and training methods as well.
Question: What can be done to educate our athletes on this matter?
Answer: The education that we conduct covers the junior and Malaysia Games-level athletes. We conduct out-of-competition testing and during the Malaysia Games. Before that, we have sessions for athletes during training camps in preparation for the Malaysia Games.
In the past, we have had cases of drug abuse among athletes at that age. It was perhaps due to a lack of knowledge and ignorance.
The athletes can always approach us at the National Sports Institute or our centres in the nine states, or go to their respective state sports councils. It is not just about providing knowledge, we also have the authority and bear the responsibility of giving the right information to them on this matter.
Athletes need the right attitude and stay alert. We advise that if you are not sure of something, it's best not to take it. This involves not only drugs, which are synthetic, but also natural substances.
Our strategy is not just to give people knowledge because knowledge alone does not educate. Education, on the other hand, changes people's attitude and behaviour. To do this, we have to change the outlook and the mindset of athletes about the dangers of doping, that is to be careful and to ask questions.
We have to organise hotlines or maybe inform athletes and coaches where to seek information.
The important thing is for all athletes to stay away from drugs. We must generate future athletes who will explore genuine methods of physical preparation.
Question: Is it easier to achieve success by taking banned substances?
Answer: We have world-class athletes who achieve success in their careers by working hard like (Datuk) Lee Chong Wei, (Datuk) Nicol Ann David and Azizulhasni (Awang). They are paragons of virtue in sports. These are the ones we should be looking up to. They work hard to get to the pinnacle of their careers.
Chong Wei, for example, is the fittest in his career, and the same goes to Nicol, who is the world champion many times over because she works hard and does not take any shortcut.
This shortcut mentality is something we have to root out at an early stage itself. At the talent identification level, we have to arm the potential athletes with the proper knowledge of physical development, mental strength and character, as well as good nutrition.
Once this is established, they will know that there are genuine ways to attain success. This character-building exercise will infuse a sense of responsibility and integrity in them.
Question: Why do athletes fall into the trap of illegal drugs? Are they not aware of the dangers of taking these substances?
Answer: Of paramount importance is the awareness that the substances are a danger to health.
Anabolic steroids can do a host of things. Physically, they can damage your liver, kidneys and muscles. Psychologically, they may cause you to become belligerent and aggressive. We have only begun to investigate the long-term effects.
Then, there are stimulants that can cause heart problems.
There is also the problem of people trying to get ahead through unfair means. Some people scoff at the concept of level playing field, saying "the other guys are doing it, why should I get left behind?"
At the end of the day, our national athletes are competing as ambassadors and are the pride of the nation. It has always been a struggle getting them to tow the line and go for genuine performance. If people are going to question your integrity, surely you won't be happy.
The important thing is to be confident and tell people that you have succeeded on your own steam. I feel that anybody worth his salt would aim for this rather than cheat and get his way by taking illegal substances.
We also have to look at the people linked to the athletes such as the coach and the medical personnel. In the past, these people had been involved as well. The National Sports Institute has had to be careful. We have to look at the root cause of the problem because, sometimes, it's not just about the athletes.
Question: What is WADA's strict liability principle? Do our athletes understand this principle? What effort is taken to educate them?
Answer: The concept of strict liability is something we have to keep pegging away, even if an athlete has taken the drug inadvertently or is given mistakenly by a doctor. The fact remains that the athlete competed with the advantage of the drug in his system.
Therefore, the achievement is not valid and he will have to serve a certain period of ineligibility. This may be unfortunate but correct in principle.
People have to remind themselves that the challenge is not just about athletes meeting the physical demands of sports but also having an innate sense of responsibility.
Athletes who have participated in the Olympics and tested many times over would understand. They have been educated and have enough information. It is our responsibility and challenge to constantly educate our athletes. We should be spreading the net wider to include young athletes.
Early next month, the Youth and Sports Ministry, OCM and NSC are jointly organising a seminar, where association presidents, secretaries and chief coaches aim to educate the athletes on how to work towards zero-tolerance for drug abuse in sports and the role they can play to help us. Anti-doping authorities need the cooperation of all these bodies.
I am perturbed when people say they don't have access to information. They can access the NSI, OCM, medical committees of their organisations or the international federation.
If you're not sure about anything, you just have to ask.
Read more: NST