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Neil Francis: 'Latitude given to South African governing body means scope of drug use may never be unearthed'


Springbok Aphiwe Dyantyi tested positive for a cocktail of drugs, including anabolic steroids, missed the World Cup in Japan and faces a ban. Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

Springbok Aphiwe Dyantyi tested positive for a cocktail of drugs, including anabolic steroids, missed the World Cup in Japan and faces a ban. Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

AFP via Getty Images

Springbok Aphiwe Dyantyi tested positive for a cocktail of drugs, including anabolic steroids, missed the World Cup in Japan and faces a ban. Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

'We talk of a rainbow nation - in a country that is dichotomized between black and white. We must acknowledge that the rainbow is, in fact, still a dream.' - Winnie Mandela

The woman who spoke these words would have had a better grasp of the realities in her native land than most of us who threw a cursory glance at the World Cup final and the warm fuzzy feelings that enveloped proceedings last Saturday when South Africa, despite its myriad problems, prevailed.

Winning three World Cups will have very little long-term benefits for the ills that afflict South Africa. Racial collaboration is an uneasy work in progress and it is difficult to see the country being a better place to live in, say, in 10 years' time. Looking across the border in Zimbabwe may give us a clue. Apocalypse - not now but soon.

It is one of the reasons World Rugby (except for Bill Beaumont) will have been beaming with the result. South Africa is a foundation stone, and a key constituency in the world of rugby, so if anything came about which diminished that then the game on a universal level is in trouble. It is important that South Africa stays strong.

It is one of the reasons World Rugby give South Africa alarming latitude to run their own affairs - given the constraints and difficulties they have in every other sphere in the country.


South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters


South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Despite Siya Kolisi's heart-warming humility and Rassie Erasmus' astonishing turnaround of not just a team in decline but the sport at every level in that country, questions still have to be asked.

On July 2, Aphiwe Dyantyi was tested while at a Springbok training camp. The South African media reported that Dyantyi had picked up a hamstring strain on July 12. The player missed South Africa's successful Rugby Championship campaign and it was then confirmed that he would miss the World Cup. But any outside back will tell you that a hamstring strain typically means two or three weeks out of action. There was, so, plenty of time to make it back for the World Cup, which did not start until September 20. Did Dyantyi really have a hamstring strain?

Then, in late August, news broke that Dyantyi had tested positive for a banned substance on July 2. Dyantyi released a statement, one that struck me as the usual, carefully-prepared quasi-legal/PR statement, which had the presumption of innocence right at the heart of it. When a player tests positive for a banned substance, they can't even confirm what their own name is without consultation with legal representatives.

This is what he said: "I want to deny ever taking any prohibited substance, intentionally or negligently, to enhance my performance on the field, I believe in hard work and fair play. I have never cheated and never will. The presence of this prohibited substance in my body has come as a massive shock to me and together with my management team and experts appointed by them, we are doing everything we can to get to the source of this and to prove my innocence. As a professional sportsman on national and international level, we get tested on a regular basis. I have been tested before and again, since this test. Taking any prohibited substance would not only be irresponsible and something that I would never intentionally do, it would also be senseless and stupid."

Dyantyi's statement was released immediately after his A sample results became public. It was a robust riposte. When the B sample results became known it was a bombshell - not one but three prohibited substances: Methandienone, Methyltestosterone and Ligandrol or LGD 4033.

In my opinion that's game, set and match. It is not the cocktail of drugs that will do him, it is how the cocktail works in conjunction with each other that is so damning.

Methandienone, or its trade name Dianabol, was first formulated in the early 1960s and has been improved on over the decades but you will find it still regularly pops up on WADA's adverse findings list.

Ligandrol, though, has only been on the market for several years and is the gold standard of anabolic steroids. It is known as a SARM - selective androgen receptor modulator. It goes directly to the muscle groupings required. It is an extremely efficient steroid. It is taken orally and you can pack on six to eight pounds of lean muscle in an eight-week cycle.

Shayna Jack, the Australian swimmer, was caught taking it at the World Championships during the summer. Jack's people are trying to blame shitake mushrooms and undercooked steak for the presence of the substance in her system. Unathi Mali, a South African women's sevens player, also got done in 2018 for Methandienone. It was in her drinking water, apparently.

Back to Dyantyi. One of the side effects of Ligandrol is that it inhibits the natural production of testosterone in your body and so your medical advisor will tell you to take a testosterone booster such as Methyltestosterone to offset the drop in testosterone levels.

Let's get back to the kernel of the issue. Dyantyi is a superstar and if he was based in Europe he would surely be facing a four-year ban. He is, however, based in South Africa, where Chilliboy Ralepele managed to continue playing and finish his career at the Sharks despite being twice caught and suspended for prohibited substances. Dyantyi may well get what is due to him but here is the problem: The scope and the scale of the investigation is purely limited to the player himself.

Maybe I have underestimated the intellectual capacity of young men in the early to mid-20s but how many of them have the capacity to self-administer on a sophisticated programme of androgynous anabolic steroids? I would be very surprised if Dyantyi did not have someone instruct him what to do and how and when to do it. Do these people have any affiliations or are they just like the tooth fairy, magically appearing out of thin air to give athletes steroids which are very difficult to source and then instruct them professionally on how the cycle should be done?

What about a plea bargain? Tell the governing body (World Rugby not the South African Rugby Union) where you got the drugs and who administered them to you. Banning Dyantyi for four years solves nothing. It is the people behind the player you have to nab. Maybe World Rugby would be happier not to find out that this is the case.

Dyantyi stated it would also be senseless and stupid to take these drugs. That is true. Dyantyi also went on record as saying that he had been tested two weeks before his positive test. The counter-argument to that, though, is to ask what better time to go on a cycle but immediately after you have been tested and found clean. It would be the most sensible time to take steroids.

The player suffered the ultimate sanction, missing a winning World Cup and faces a four-year ban.

Is he the only one? Two seasons ago a senior Springbok had to be stood down as he suffered from atrial fibrillation. How many Springboks have died prematurely from heart attacks, clots and strokes in the last 30 years?

In a recent state-sponsored survey conducted by the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport, a poll of 12,000 high school boys showed that 10 per cent of them took anabolic steroids. The poll was conducted in the KWA Zulu-Natal region of the country. Why would high school boys admit to taking steroids if they had not taken them in the first place? It's only a sample but 1,200 boys, some as young as 13? Where did these children get this stuff? How could their parents not know? How could the schools and the unions not know?

How certain are we when we point a finger to suggest there is a steroid culture in a country that has just won the World Cup? Fairly certain.

Is Dyantyi, a poster boy for the World Cup and winner of World Rugby's young player of the year, the only one? Or the only one to be caught? The player in my view will go down but the system stays in place. What were we saying about latitude and dispensation? Do we need to put an asterisk beside the winners of the 2019 World Cup?

Sunday Indo Sport