PNG athletes and doping

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday 30th October, 2012

PAPUA New Guinea as a competitor on the world sports stage has been unscathed by drug-related offences.
But a recent incident has brought that proud record to an end.
Female power lifter Metang Wak, who won gold at last year’s Pacific Games in Noumea, New Caledonia, has been stripped of that achievement by the Pacific Games Council.
In the process, Wak also earned the unwanted tag as the country’s first athlete to fail a drug test.
She tested positive for a banned substance, probenecid, a masking agent on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) prohibited substance list for 2011, after her lift on Sept 8 last year.
The substance was in her medication given by a medical professional at an urban clinic in Port Moresby which she had been taking for several weeks.
Masking agents are substances that can hide the presence of performance enhancing drugs and allow a user to test “clean”. 
At the 2011 Pacific Games in New Caledonia, 341 drug tests were conducted and 12 athletes returned positive results for prohibited substances, the most common being methylhexaneamine, a stimulant which was in the supplements taken by five of them.
It must also be pointed out that a Tahitian bodybuilder was automatically barred from competing in Noumea after being caught with vials containing steroids in his luggage.
At this stage, we can be certain that Wak’s misfortune was not the result of some clandestine use of a substance to improve her performance but because of ignorance and a poor understanding of the testing systems and regulations.
Nevertheless, a price had to be paid. She was banned for two years. Wak will not be allowed to compete and represent her country until September 2013. 
In a sense, this incident has caused PNG Sports Federation and Olympic Committee officials and the National Power Lifting Federation to take considerable pause on the way our athletes are managed with regards to adhering to Wada regulations.
Comments such as “it is sad to see an athlete lose their medal this way” but, at the same time, it reflects the need for greater awareness and understanding on the strict rules in place when it comes to anti-doping made by PNG Sports Anti-Doping Organisation (PNGSADO).
It will only hold water if the bodies responsible for preparing our athletes also educate their charges on the dangers of breaking anti-doping regulations.
We need to learn from this.
In Wak’s case, this was apparently not done to a degree that would have enabled her to identify the offending substance that she was taking. It appears she fell through the cracks.
Whether it was because of a lack of knowledge or a reckless disregard for anti-doping protocols, the onus now must be on the PNGSADO to insist on the strictest disclosure for athletes in order to prevent such an incident from occurring again, especially with Port Moresby set to host the next Pacific Games in 2015.
All eyes will be on us. With the growing number of PNG athletes competing in top competitions, it is incumbent on the PNGSADO ensure all athletes understand and adhere to the regulations.
The PNGSADO must do all it can to inculcate the principles and ethics of true sportsmanship in our athletes so they avoid the risk of disgracing themselves as drug cheats.