SAfrican athlete claims she was injected with blood-boosting drug without her knowledge

By Gerald Imray, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Drug case hits beleaguered SAfrican athletics

JOHANNESBURG — One of South Africa’s top sprinters said Thursday she was injected with a blood-boosting drug without her knowledge, the latest allegation to rock the country’s track federation in the wake of the Caster Semenya gender dispute.

Commonwealth Games 100-meter silver medallist Geraldine Pillay told Talk Radio 702 she thought the substance administered by a team doctor in 2008 was a vitamin cocktail, commonly used by athletes.

It turned out to be Actovegin, a calf’s blood derivative which boosts the amount of oxygen carried by the blood and can also mask other substances.

Pillay said the drug was administered by team doctor Maaki Ramagole on the advice of Ekkart Arbeit, a controversial former East German coach. Pillay said she is considering legal action.

Ramagole claimed she also did not know what the substance was because labels on the bottles “were written in German,” according to radio reports.

South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee board member Ray Mali, the temporary administrator in charge of ASA, told The Associated Press on Thursday: “At the moment these are just allegations,” and chose not to comment further.

However, Mali said elections for eight places on the ASA board, to replace officials who resigned, would go ahead this weekend despite the scandal.

SASCOC has been in temporary charge of the troubled federation since its entire board was suspended last year following allegations of financial mismanagement and the handling of the Semenya case.

Initial details of the Actovegin affair emerged in the Citizen newspaper, which quoted a report ordered by SASCOC into wider mismanagement by Athletics South Africa officials.

According to the Citizen, the forensic report into ASA by audit firm Deloitte says officials knew about the alleged Actovegin incident.

The newspaper quotes an e-mail sent by Ramagole to former ASA manager Molatelo Malehopo on May 6, 2008, concerning the use of the Actovegin on Pillay.

“Hi, this is what Ekkart gave Geraldine and asked me to inject,” Ramagole wrote, according to the Citizen. “I only checked it now on the Internet and I am worried that it is a banned substance.”

Attached was an article dated Dec. 12, 2000, which showed Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team being investigated for using the drug at the Tour de France earlier that year.

Although Actovegin was not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency at the time of the Pillay incident, it had been a prohibited substance before.

The International Olympic Committee became concerned about it in 2000 after it appeared at the Tour de France. The drug was placed on the banned list, then removed a year later because more evidence was needed to determine if it was performance-enhancing or damaging to athletes’ health.

Semenya, who won the 800-meter world championship title, was sidelined for 11 months after undergoing gender tests last year. She is not implicated in any of the drug allegations, but Arbeit did work with Semenya during his time at ASA.

Arbeit, the former head coach of Athletics South Africa, admitted his role in state-sponsored drug use with the former East German athletics team in the 1970s and 1980s.

One of the athletes under Arbeit’s charge, shot-putter Heidi Krieger, claimed she was given so many anabolic steroids by Arbeit that she was forced to undergo a sex-change operation and lives as a man.

Deloitte delivered its report to South Africa’s Olympic committee after being asked to investigate the allegations of financial mismanagement and the bungling of the Semenya affair by ASA officials and suspended ASA president Leonard Chuene.

Chuene was suspended along with his entire board in November 2009 after admitting he lied about gender tests performed on Semenya before the world championships in Berlin.

Shredded papers were also discovered at the ASA headquarters in Johannesburg, prompting the forensic investigation and leading SASCOC to take temporary charge of the federation.

Chuene and other ASA officials appeared at initial disciplinary hearings last week, where they were given copies of the Deloitte report, according to Mali.

They are to face hearings in October.

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