“Winners don’t cheat. Cheaters don’t win” An Account of the Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization
Eritrea has produced many athletes over the years. Many names have shined in continental and global arenas. These young sportsmen and women have shined, of course, thanks to their athletic vigor and discipline, a principle that promotes glory earned through hard work. The Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization works to endorse athletes in their activities while protecting their rights. We talk today to Doping Control Officer and pharmacist Mr. Asmerom Beraki as he presents an overview of his work alongside the Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization.
- Thank you for your time. First, could you please pass on greetings to our readers?
I am Asmerom Beraki and I am a pharmacist. I am currently working in the anti-doping world delegated from the Eritrean Ministry of Health to the Commission of Culture and Sports. After graduating from Asmara University in 2003 I have been working as a pharmacist. I first was assigned to the National Drug Quality Control Laboratory and served there for sixteen years, followed by my current profession as doping control and education officer in the Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization.
- What can you tell us about your office? What does the Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization do?
The Eritrean National Anti- Doping Organization was built up with people from different organizations and ministries, and predominantly the Ministry of Health. The organization was established in 2008 and I joined it in early 2009.
The World Anti- Doping Agency (WADA) was set in 1998. In 2004, Eritrea signed the Copenhagen Declaration and almost ten years later, in 2008, the Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization officially began its work. The fight against doping consists of a set of programs. The most important aspect is education, of course. Conducting campaigns and creating awareness while sensitizing the people is one of our core missions. Secondly, we work on testing and therapeutic exemptions and last but not least we work on result management.
- Besides controlling the organization also works on protecting the rights of athletes? How do you work towards protecting their right? And what do we mean by that?
There is a committee that is meant to protect the rights of athletes who have sickness. Let’s say, for example, that an athlete suffers from asthma. It wouldn’t be fair to prevent him from competitions simply because he takes drugs from the banned list. Therefore, there is a committee primarily established to consider applications allowing athletes to take care of their medication. The committee considers whether the athletes’ prescriptions are justifiable.
- What are the do’s and don’ts in your list?
As I mentioned earlier, after WADA was established, one of the first tasks was to harmonize the anti-doping set of rules to govern the control of doping. Doping control is not only about controlling athletes who abuse external drugs to enhance performance but also drug trafficking and associated activities in the world of sport. Compliances that support athletes who dope are also a point of focus to the overall agenda included in the convention. We intensely work on awareness. At every regional, continental or international game held in Eritrea our office is there to conduct tests on the winners. Moreover, promoting fair and honest play, protecting the rights of the clean athletes, banning drugs, explaining to athletes the adverse effects of doping and raising awareness and more are some of our main tasks. The control mechanism is growing and the cheating is equally growing worldwide.
- Eritrea has surely produced many athletes that have made the country’s reputation high in regional, continental and international games. What has working with Eritrean athletes been like? Does Eritrea have cheaters?
We don’t have such alarming issues here. We never did.
- Why do you think that is the case?
Mainly, due to the culture of the Eritrean people. The people’s culture fosters social values that condemn cheating and gaining from what is not yours. That being said, the world is open these days. Our athletes travel and people travel a lot, too. They could be victims of drug smuggling easily but luckily their backgrounds and upbringing is shielding them against it. Moreover, one of our core activities, as I mentioned earlier, is educating people. So, we work intensely to educate athletes on what doping is and its aftereffects. In ten years, we’ve had only one athlete who has been accused of doping.
- So that makes your job easy!
It does. But regardless of that, our controlling mechanism is still applied vigorously. Above all we focus on education campaigns and it has been extremely fruitful. Most of the campaigns are funded. And we work hard to win funds, forward proposals and work diligently to spread the knowledge. Additionally, if cases of doping are spotted we consult our athletes. We encourage them to do great again. We haven’t handled any cases at national level yet, but this one case I told you, for example, was handled internationally and the athlete made an appeal, admitting he did take medication for a health condition. Afterwards, his ban verdict was reduced from five years to nine months. I don’t want to disclose his name, but I would like to congratulate him on his recent win. He won a medal just last Monday in Italy. So, what I am trying to say is that our mindset is positive. We work on educating and promoting fairness.
- Mr. Asmerom, you have worked in the organization for almost a decade. What has it been like working with the office and other similar offices in the region?
It has been an enjoyable experience. I have felt immensely privileged to learn, travel and share knowledge in workshops, symposiums and more. The science of it is quite new to the world; it is the hot cake now. And so to venture in this area has been an amazing experience. The Eritrean National Anti-Doping Organization works in collaboration with other regional anti-doping organizations (RADO). These days we are working as if we were employees of regional RADOs. The regional organizations follow our activity: from testing to awareness campaigns. Our region produces world class athletes. Our region is also one of the mainly targeted areas by anti-doping organizations.
- What would you handle differently in the office?
We at the office have been functioning as part-timers. I believe the intensity of the task handled by the office requires full timers. That is something I want to stress. Other than that our office has progressed a lot. We are very well connected as anti-doping requires the collaboration amongst organizations of different countries. The fight cannot be carried out if you are a segregated office. We are updated in every progress of the area and when opportunities of funds and workshops open up we are always the first to apply. As an organization I can say that our office is one of the most commended ones in the region.
- Thank you and best of luck to your offices’ further activities!