by Reemus Fernando
Reputed sprint coach and Olympian Sunil Gunawardena alleged that a segment of track and field coaches guiding the destinies of Sri Lanka’s top level athletes were ruining their careers by promoting controversial supplements. He said that country’s fastest sprinter in both the boys’ and girls’ categories are now being coached by an individual who imports and promotes supplements. Gunawardena who did not name the individual said that the controversial individual was not a qualified coach.
In an interview with Roshan Abeysinghe in ‘Straight Drive’ on Derana 24, the veteran coach said that authorities have turned a blind eye to unsafe supplements used in the field of sports.
“Currently the fastest boy and girl in Sri Lanka are coached by an individual who has no coaching credentials. He is importing supplements and promoting them among athletes. Tragedy is that he is promoting them even among school athletes,” alleged Gunawardena in the show telecast on Saturday.
The criticism of Gunawardena, who trained the likes of Damayanthi Dharsha to hog the limelight at Asian level, comes at a time when suppliers of controversial supplements have easy access to competition venues and even accompany them to international competitions.
“There is no method to categories harmful supplements and safe supplements. So are those who sell them. One such supplier toured with the South Asian Games team. You could see some of the athletes adoring this person instead of their coaches after they won medals in Nepal last year,” an official close to top athletes told The Island.
Supplements had been blamed for the last two positive drug tests conducted by the Sri Lanka Anti Doping Authority.
A young schools sprinter from Southern Province was found positive for stimulants (Oxandrolone and Epioxandrolone) when SLADA conducted tests at the National Sports Festival in 2018 resulting a provisional suspension. Her ‘B’ sample test also confirmed the positive analytical finding. Months later at the Disciplinary Inquiry the athlete’s lawyers successfully defended her. The Disciplinary Panel in its report said: “the Panel is satisfied that the athlete and her parents have successfully established that they bear no fault or negligence in consuming the Protein Supplement which caused the adverse analytical finding.”
Ironically the athlete’s parents had proved that they had purchased the supplement during an all island schools competition held at the country’s premier athletics venue the Sugathadasa Stadium.
There had been more than one occasion when outstanding performances of young athletes trained by up and coming coaches being attributed to use of supplements than to a properly laid out training plans.
Taking supplements is not prohibited as rightly argued by the lawyers of the young athlete mentioned above. But who can guarantee which supplements are clear of substances banned by the World Anti Doping Authority?
Addressing a group of coaches during an online seminar last month a professor from the Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka said that there was no system to categories protein supplements, mostly whey protein in Sri Lanka. Protein supplements can play a major role in an athlete’s recovery process but unavailability of pure supplements has prevented recognized nutritionists from recommending any.
“There are no pure protein supplements which we can recommend in Sri Lanka. Contents in a protein supplement may vary from consignment to consignment,” Terrance Madujith, a professor on Food Science from the University of Peradeniya told a symposium recently.
Though it is widely believed that there is supplement use in many sports, positive tests were rare. Does that mean the supplements available are clean?
With limited resources, the country’s anti-doping authorities are conducting only 250 to 300 tests per year. According to sources it costs SLADA nearly rupees 35,000.00 to 40,000.00 to conduct one test. There are dozens of national level competitions in track and field alone per year and there are nearly three dozen Olympic sports. Even if it dedicates a major potion of the tests to premier sports, SLADA will be able to test only less than dozen athletes a year in one sport.
With no check or control on supplement use and with limited resources for SLADA to conduct tests outstanding performances are likely to be looked at with suspicion. How long will the coaches and athletes who believe in natural strengths will bear this?