Educating athletes on banned substances

The sad case of Sri Lanka boxer Manju Wanniarachchi who is fighting a battle to not only retain his gold medal, won at the 19th Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, but also to save his international boxing career and his country from humiliation is another instance of ignorance by sports bodies to educate athletes on the dangers of banned substances like Nandrolone.

It is not only the sweat, toil and effort that one puts at training that goes to make a champion but there is also the other side to it that must also be seriously addressed. The athlete must be made aware of what his/her food intake is and when he or she is injured the medicine that is prescribed to them to recover should also be closely monitored. Many have been the instances in other countries where the medicine has turned out to be in the list of banned substance.

In countries like Sri Lanka where sports medicine cannot be spoken of highly as in Western countries there is a crying need to educate rural sports athletes on the dangers of using such drugs knowingly or unknowingly. These rural athletes can easily be misled into believing that something injected into their body can be a vitamin B complex as has been in the case of Wanniarachchi. The individual who injects such drugs should take responsibility for it. Whether it was administered with the knowledge of the athlete is also a matter of conjecture.

In Wanniarachchi’s case the doctor who is from Kurunegala has been taken into questioning and the Sports Medicine Unit headed by Dr Geethanjana Mendis has appointed a three-member committee under Dr Maiya Gunasekera to investigate and report on how Wanniarachchi and the country came to be placed in such a shameful position after his ‘A’ urine sample was reported to be positive. Wanniarachchi can call for his ‘B’ urine sample also to be opened in his presence and if that too proves to be positive he will lose his medal and also face a maximum two-year ban from boxing unless proved otherwise.

The Wanniarachchi incident is a good eye-opener for the country to enhance their knowledge on banned substances and keep abreast of what is happening around the world rather than lag behind. It is also a good opportunity to set up a unit to educate rural athletes on the dangers and the use of banned substances like Nandrolone.

It will be interesting to know what steps Sri Lanka had taken since another top class Sri Lankan athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe was also placed in a similar situation in 1998 and was tested positive for the same drug Nandrolone, but in different circumstances. Jayasinghe accused the officials who tested her of refusing to seal the urine specimens which she claimed were tampered with to discredit her. She was eventually cleared and later went onto bring glory to her country by becoming the first athlete since 1948 to win an Olympic medal for her country when she finished third behind Marion Jones and Pauline Davis-Thompson in the women’s 200 metres at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. However in October 2007 when Jones admitted having taken performance enhancing drugs prior to the Olympics, Jayasinghe was later awarded the Silver medal.

Dr. Seevali Jayawickrama of the National Sports Medical Board says that the Sri Lankan athletes are constantly updated on the use of banned substances but many don’t pay much heed to it unless something drastic happens.
The most heartening aspect of Wanniarachchi’s case is that he is not fighting a lone battle. The NOC, the Sports Medicine Unit, the Boxing Association and the government of Sri Lanka have thrown their weight behind Wanniarachchi to help him overcome the predicament that he is faced with. The boxer faces a challenge much bigger than all the opponents he has beaten into submission during his illustrious (not tainted) career.