KUALA LUMPUR: Highly respected sports medicine and doping expert Datuk Dr S. S. Cheema has lauded the Podium Programme for banning their athletes from smoking and has even suggested that athletes act as whistle blowers should their teammates decide to light up off the pitch.
Despite some parties arguing that those who quit smoking abruptly could psychologically affect them, Cheema made it clear that the ban was a no-brainer even for sports which do not require substantial aerobic fitness such as shooting or tenpin bowling.
"I think it (banning smoking) is a very good idea, mainly for two reasons," said Cheema, who served as the head of the medical and anti-doping committee for the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games.
"Firstly, as custodians (of the athletes) it is important to ensure that the health of athletes is protected. The second is to ensure that the huge amount of taxpayers money used for this programme does not go to waste.
"There is no doubt that smoking adversely affects the performance of an athlete, even those in sports such as shooting.
"An athlete who does not smoke will have a lower heart rate and this will allow him or her (shooter) to be calmer and take a more stable shot.
"Non-smokers also do not have to deal with the effects of nicotine withdrawal when they have not smoked for some time. The effects of this is even worse (than high heart rate).
"Either way, it is best that these young athletes in the programme quit cold turkey for their own good."
Cheema admitted that it will be tough to monitor smoking and stressed that prevention is better than investigative methods such as testing.
"Teachers, coaches and parents all have to play their part to make sure these youngsters do not start smoking. They need to educate and guide them.
"It is not practical to test them every week for nicotine so our best hope is through education and prevention.
"But I believe that fellow athletes should also play their part and report any teammates that smoke. There should be a way for them to do this (report) anonymously to the coach or officials in charge.
"It is not fair for them (non-smokers). Take hockey for an example, smokers would affect the overall performance of the team."
National Sports Institute (ISN) chairman Datuk Seri Azim Mohd Zabidi stated recently that athletes in the Podium Programme must quit smoking or risk being deselected from the programme.