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FIFA eyes African stimulants

February 21, 2010
Associated Press

SUN CITY, South Africa -- 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.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press