Doping awareness needs to reach grassroots level

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 21 March 2018, 12:00AM

Doping and sports in Samoa is an odd combination. But it is not impossible.

Come to think of it, it’s an issue that we should be thinking a lot more carefully about given recent developments involving some of our athletes. 

One case that immediately comes to mind is that of young weightlifter Iuniarra Sipaia. The young woman has been suspended after testing positive for a banned substance through no fault of her own. 

You see, the promising weightlifter had a sore knee, as it happens from time to time if you are an athlete, and she was referred to the doctor. She was given an injection by a doctor who clearly thought it wasn’t a banned substance.

Not until they arrived at a competition in Australia where she was stopped from competing because the test found that the medication she had been injected with has now been banned.

“I didn’t know what to do and it felt like someone just walked up to me and stabbed me in the heart,” she said.

 “I feel insecure. I’m ashamed to walk on the road or be seen by people because I feel that they might talk about me when they see me.

 “I’m scared to even go out of the house now, so all I do, I sit at home, turn on the television and watch TV the whole day. I’m depressed because of what happened and I don’t know what to do.”

From what we’ve been told, Ms. Sipaia was administered a Cortisone injection.

The shot can be used to treat inflammation of small areas of the body, such as inflammation of a specific joint or tendon. 

But it’s illegal apparently and that’s why sports administrators and athletes in Samoa need to be thinking more and more about the issue. 

It is why an interview with a Samoan woman who is leading the fight against doping in this part of the world is critical. We are referring to Natanya Potoi-Ulia who is the Executive Officer of the Oceania Regional Anti-Doping Organization (O.R.A.D.O). 

She has just completed a training for local Anti-doping officers ahead of the Pacific Games next year.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Ms. Sipaia’s case is not lost on Mrs. Potoi-Ulia who said it was an unfortunate incident.

 “There is a concern about how the public perceive the reports about an athlete being reported with a positive test. And it’s simply because maybe the media is unaware of different ways that an athlete may end up with a positive test,” she said.  “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.

 “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 couldn’t be more accurate.  But obviously there is a need to educate athletes as well so they are not ignorant about what goes into their bodies. 

The fact is there is very little understanding, if any at all in Samoa, about drug use and doping when it comes to sports. 

This is why it is critical for Mrs. Potoi-Ulia’s message to reach grassroots levels for all sports. We need them to understand to avoid what has happened to poor Iuniarra Sipaia. What do you think? Have a safe Thursday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 21 March 2018, 12:00AM

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