Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to testing positive for a prohibited substance in the world of competitive professional sports.
This is the view held by a Samoan woman who is leading the fight against doping in this part of the world.
Natanya Potoi-Ulia is the Executive Officer of the Oceania Regional Anti-Doping Organization (O.R.A.D.O.).
She works to uphold the strict liability principle which states unequivocally that the athlete is solely responsible for what is found in his or her sample/body.
In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Mrs. Potoi-Ulia discusses the need to prevent negative consequences that doping will have on the “spirit of sport”.
“In amateur sports you might expect that there are cases of doping, but as an elite athlete, there is no excuse. You’re an elite athlete for a reason and you will be held to a higher level of code of ethics,” she said.
“Most times, I think for us in the Pacific Island countries the reason there are results or reports of doping athletes is because of ignorance.”
“A lot of times they inadvertently commit an anti-doping rule violation because of the lack of understanding of what is expected of them in regards to compliance and the whole rules of the sport.”
On the subject of weight-lifter, Iuniaara Sipaia’s suspension after testing positive for a prohibited substance, Mrs. Potoi-Ulia said it was an unfortunate incident of athletes putting all the responsibility on to their coaches and management.
However, she said, on a more positive note, the publicity that came out of it served to educate the athletes and the public more about anti-doping processes and policies.
“There is a concern about how the public perceive the reports about an athlete being reported with a positive test,” she said.
“And it’s simply because maybe the media is unaware of different ways that an athlete may end up with a positive test.”
“But with the anti-doping, we always have what we call a strict liability principle which simply states the athlete is actually responsible for what is found in his or her sample/body.”
“That’s the protection of the world anti-doping code.”
“It puts the onus onto the athlete to be more responsible with what they actually take because a lot of times, we see our Pacific Island athletes very dependent and reliant on their coaches or medical people to help them to be aware of these laws.”
“At the end of the day, the athlete will be sanctioned if any of these substances are found in their system regardless of how it got there and who administered that substance.”
Mrs. Potoi-Ulia also discussed the psychology behind why athletes turn to doping to enhance their performance knowing full well the high chances of being caught and facing the consequences.
“A lot of times with the research that has been carried out in the past, depending on which level of athlete that you are performing at that point in time in their career,” she said.
“So for young people, they really want to perform because they feel pressured that they need to perform to be a part of that A team.”
“Then we have those who are in the A team that they feel like they need to maintain their place in the A team and they feel pressured to take something that will sustain or maintain that position. Then you have those who are coming to the end of their career and I think it’s just a fear of retirement.”
With regards to “sophisticated dopers” and how they have managed to go undetected for years, Mrs. Potoi-Ulia talks about the connection between ego and systematic doping.
“It has happened in the past where an athlete actually does systematically dope, meaning they were able to establish some sort of system that they can actually micro-dose a prohibited substance.”
“However, they have a bit of impact on how their system and their body perform on the field, but those are really sophisticated dopers.”
“It depends on the ego of the athlete as well. As you may already know about the cyclist Lance Armstrong, he’s got a big ego. There are a number of athletes found doping that went undetected for a number of years because they were able to find loop holes in the system.”
Mrs. Potoi-Ulia was the original Doping Control Officer for Samoa in 2004. In 2006, she relocated to Fiji to head the Oceania Regional Anti-Doping Organization where she has been for 12 years.