Know your prohibited substances: Local athletes warned of dangers of traditional medicine

2004 silat world champion Saiedah Said was slapped with a two-year ban by the Anti-Doping Singapore (ADS) for failing the in-competition drug tests on 7 June 2013.

Sports fans in Singapore woke up to shocking news yesterday morning.

Tennis star Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner and arguably one of the most recognisable faces in women's sport over the past decade, revealed that she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.

The 28-year-old Russian tested positive for meldonium, a substance she said she has been taking since 2006 for health issues.

Sharapova claimed she and her team did not know that meldonium was recently declared a prohibited substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) banned list.

It is a scenario that could happen to top athletes here, and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) chief Bob Gambardella wants to hammer home the message that knowledge is power.

He told The New Paper: "We work with Anti-Doping Singapore, and even though the (two bodies) are separate, we do collaborate because we want to make sure our best weapon is always education.

"During the lead-up to major games, we give our athletes up-to-date information about what to expect (in terms of anti-doping rules), and so on and so forth.

"So really, from that perspective, I don't think people should ever say 'I don't know'.

"There's a rule in Wada called 'strict liability' and basically, if you put something in your body... That's the way it is."

National athletes are subject to unannounced out-of-competition tests by Wada officials at any moment and today, the South-east Asia Games also have strict testing procedures.

Gambardella spoke to TNP on the sidelines of an International Olympic Committee ceremony at Faber Peak Singapore last night to honour three Singaporeans for their contributions to the Olympic movement.

The American, who will step down after the Rio Olympics in August after seven years at the helm of SSI, said the organisation is on top of recent trends in local sports medicine.

For example, the Basketball Association of Singapore and Singapore Athletics have signed partnerships with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) chain Kin Teck Tong in recent months.

He wants to prevent a repeat of the situation which saw national silat exponent and 2005 Sportsgirl of the Year Saiedah Said given a two-year ban in 2013, after she tested positive for the banned substances Nor-Sibutramine and OH-Nor Sibutramine - which are appetite suppressors.


Saiedah claimed she ingested the substances unknowingly when she took traditional health tonics given by her mother for back pain.

Said Gambardella: "Some of our NSAs have been looking at TCM and while we don't have an issue with that, we want to make sure when you (are considering) aromatherapy or taking herbs, we say 'stay away from it'.

"And we've also talked to some of the TCMs to alert them: Don't give athletes any of that, because you don't know.

"Like I said, we can only educate. That's our best weapon.

"Take for instance, the fact that on the average we see anywhere between 160 to 170 athletes, coaches and parents coming through (SSI) Athlete Services Centre a month.

"This has really been a great way for us to engage.

"So if the (athletes) have any questions, they have their way to ask them at the centre.

"And we have our science and medicine experts there to sit with them and try to work out any questions they may have."

This article was first published on March 9, 2016.
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