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Pill popping! - Student athletes warned not to blindly take what their coaches give

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Kingston College supporters celebrate in the bleachers at the VMBS/ISSA Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships.

Sports-medicine specialist Dr Paul Wright is concerned about how subservient local student athletes are to their coaches, who sometimes tell them to take pills and supplements without informing them about what they are ingesting.

Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Friday, Wright, who is the former Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission doping control officer, said during an ongoing programme which sees a team that he is part of, in partnership with the HEART Institute of Jamaica going around to schools to test student athletes, more than 150 students have confessed to be taking some pill or the other.

"They are taking some supplement and not one of them so far that I have questioned can tell me the name of the supplement, in all sports, including badminton, rugby, football and track and field," Wright told The Sunday Gleaner.

"I have had students in all these sports who have come for pre-participation evaluation and they take supplements and have no idea what they take. I examined this week a 12-year-old child who is taking a supplement and she said her coach told her 'it is an energy pill'."


exploited by coaches


Wright said though he has not yet found any evidence that these student athletes are being harmed, they are at risk of being exploited by coaches who want success at any cost.

"Potentially, it is harmful. So far, I don't see any physical, chemical or medical manifestation that they (coaches) are doing something wrong," said Wright.

"But the whole thing about taking a supplement and not knowing what you are taking is risky."

With a student athlete having failed a doping test in 2013, Wright said Jamaica cannot continue to deny that some coaches may be tempted to give student athletes performance-enhancing substances.

It is these coaches who Wright believes the system should catch, as he believes they should bear the brunt of the blame and face the greatest consequence.

"No child dopes intentionally; that is my belief," said Wright. "Somebody is assisting in finding the substance, in getting the substance and getting them to take the substance because of the rewards. The incentives to do well are astronomical, and if you put cheese out there rat going to come for it."

Wright highlighted that athletes totally trusting their handlers is not a mistake made by only juniors, but that professional athletes have also been found to make the grave error.

Former 100-metre world record holder Asafa Powell, who, after his failed drugs test last year, testified that though he knew he was responsible for what he put into his body, "in this sport, there are people you have to rely on".

"I have drug-tested athletes at the international level and they turn up to the drug testing and while filling out the form they stop and say 'hold on there'. They then call their coach and ask 'what I am taking'," Wright shared. "This is an international athlete doing drug testing at their house six o'clock in the morning."