The use of traditional medicines and rituals in professional soccer in South Africa
Mulungwa, L. C.
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Objectives: Anecdotally and from observation there is wide spread use of traditional medicine (TM) and traditional rituals (TR) in sport in South Africa. It is predominantly practiced by ethnic black athletes, and is an apparent common occurrence in professional soccer. No scientific literature could be found on TM and TR in sport in South Africa. In order to advise athletes on the use of TM and TR, scientific evidence is required on the prevalence of TM and TR use, the types and substances used, efficacy, adverse effects, and possible content of banned substances. The aim of the study was therefore to gather baseline data on the use of TM and TR, to assess the prevalence and the role thereof in sport, and to identify substances and rituals in order to guide future research on this very relevant topic. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted on former South African professional soccer players. The interview guide was constructed by identification of key questions to elucidate the prevalence and importance of TM and TR use in South Africa, to identify specific medicines and rituals, the perceived effectiveness thereof, and to understand the role and importance of secrecy that apparently surrounds TM and TR practices. Data was analysed by transcription and classification of the interviews, to produce predominantly qualitative data. Results: It was confirmed that TM and TR use is common practice in South African professional soccer. TM is used for minor ailments, stamina, injury healing, protection, improved performance, and as part of team rituals. A list of commonly used TMs has been identified and presented. Even though TM and TR are commonly used and regarded as important, the majority of participants preferred to use western medicine before they resort to TM. A list of TR has been identified and presented. The majority of participants (80%) did not believe that TR improves sport performance. Secrecy about the use of TM and TR is an important component of the traditional culture, which complicates research on this topic.