Cheating in Kiwi sport: Athletes caught buying performance-enhancing drugs made for horses

The former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency says New Zealand has had a "giant wake-up call", after 100 athletes were caught in a major drug bust.

Some athletes say they didn't realise they were breaking the international doping rules. Source: Sunday

In an interview with TVNZ's SUNDAY programme, to air tonight, David Howman says our country has a problem with doping in sport, at the grassroots level.

"New Zealand is one of the easy stopover points for people who want to transport doping substances," he says. 

"You've got people who are importing unregulated substances, making them up in the kitchen, and selling them at gyms and other places. They're looking at making money - and there's a heck of a lot to be made."

Athletes busted

In December, it was revealed that 100 Kiwi athletes had been caught buying performance-enhancing drugs online.

One of the drugs, clenbuterol, was designed to help horses breathe properly, and is not even allowed to be prescribed by doctors in New Zealand. 

It is used illegally by athletes who want to lose weight or improve their performance.

While none of the athletes who were busted had been performing at the elite level, many were competing at a semi-professional level, and had promising careers ahead.

Some now faces bans of between two and four years. They will also be labelled as "drug cheats".

A hidden problem?

Sport officials worry that the case points to the wider use of banned drugs at the amateur level, where athletes aren't routinely drug-tested.

"My gut tells me there's probably other [drug] websites out there," says Nick Paterson, the head of Drug Free Sport New Zealand. 

"And there will be other athletes out there, in similar sort of numbers, who may well have made the same bad decisions as these guys."

Paterson admits that officials don't know how widespread doping is in Kiwi sport, due to a lack of research and data.

"The problem is bigger than we're currently seeing. But we don't know the full extent of it," he told SUNDAY.

David Howman says urgent action is required, to ensure that doping doesn't take hold in New Zealand - as it already has in other countries.

"If you see a train coming and there's going to be a train wreck, you actually want to disrupt it. You don't want to wait for the wreck."

Watch Jehan Casinader’s full investigation - including an interview with an athlete caught in the drug bust - on SUNDAY at 7.30pm tonight on TVNZ 1.