AP Interview: FIFA concern over African stimulants

FIFA is concerned that players at the World Cup could use

undetectable stimulants derived from traditional African medicines

that aren’t currently banned substances.

FIFA medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe told The

Associated Press on Sunday that he wants the World Anti-Doping

Agency to analyze some African plants that could give athletes an

unfair advantage.

“I have a big concern – and I can confess that. We were

learning a lot about the traditional African medicines and we are

not sure what all of these products contain,” D’Hooghe said. “I

think some products are not detectable. This makes it difficult.

They can deliver stimulation and diuretic activity.”

D’Hooghe said he became aware of the extent of the issue at

FIFA’s medical conference this weekend in Sun City ahead of the

World Cup in South Africa, which starts June 11.

“We received a lot of examples, going from things that we know

but also going into absolutely unknown things for me. If I don’t

know the names, how can I know what they contain,” D’Hooghe said

of the plants. “This is certainly a challenge for WADA. …

“If we don’t have control over these specific traditional

medicines, then we can’t say we have control over all the

medication in football.”

In many African countries, plants provide the main source of

medicine. Umhlabelo, made of dried leaves from the Nidorella plant,

is believed to help heal bones and muscles. The Hoodia plant is

used as an appetite suppressant but also supposedly provides an

energy boost.

“More and more governments are legalizing the use of

traditional medicines, and that will compound the situation much

further,” warned Gurcharan Singh, a member of FIFA’s medical

committee.

South African team doctor Ntlopi Mogoru says some plants,

usually found in tropical African countries like Ghana, can produce

steroid byproducts that are not on WADA’s list and aren’t picked up

in doping tests.

“There is no way of knowing. That’s where the problem is,”

Mogoru told The AP. “In Africa, a lot of players use traditional

medicines and, unfortunately because of WADA, there are no tests to

detect those things and it becomes a bit of a problem for doping in

the whole world. It’s from the players’ cultural backgrounds.”

D’Hooghe thinks the $30 million FIFA spends annually on 33,000

doping tests could be better used on youth education since there

are only about 10 positive results.

D’Hooghe said he believes there is “no doping culture” among

the 260 million soccer players worldwide.