I disgraced silat and my family: banned Singapore athlete
Sport and family are everything to silat fighter Saiedah Said.
Since she was five, the former national athlete has trained, fought for and coached at the Al-Haq silat club founded by her late grandfather, Haji Hosni Bin Ahmad.
Saiedah’s uncle is Hidayat Hosni, head coach at the Singapore Silat Federation (PERSISI). Both her brothers, aged 27 and 21, are well-versed in silat – with the younger, Elyasak, a two-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games athlete.
So when Saiedah was handed a two-year ban for failing a dope test earlier this month, the ex-world champion felt she had committed the unthinkable.
“I brought down silat,” the 28-year-old told Yahoo! Singapore after a training session with her club at Kaki Bukit Community Centre. ““I brought down my family,” she said, choking back tears.
Saiedah first tested positive for the illegal substance sibutramine, a weight-loss stimulant, at the National Pencak Silat Championships in April.
After a second urine sample sent a month later confirmed the result, the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee slapped the 2005 Sportsgirl of the Year with a two-year suspension.
During this period, Saiedah will be barred from taking part in any sport as an athlete or official. The Class E (65-70kg) gold medal she won at the tournament will also be forfeited.
Return to the ring
It was a nightmare the petite, 1.57m-tall silat exponent never saw coming.
The competition was meant to be her comeback from retirement, following a prolific run of five successive SEA Games outings and a bountiful haul of medals and accolades.
After calling time on her career in 2011, Saiedah signed on with the Singapore Civil Defence Force in August last year. For six months, the section commander at Tampines Fire Station left the world of martial arts behind, but could not resist the lure of competing once again.
So she jumped at the chance to take part in this year’s national championships – despite a severe and nagging pain in her lower back.
Saiedah could not pinpoint the exact cause of injury – only that she’d tried everything she could think of to get better. But neither painkillers nor multiple massage therapists helped, and as the competition loomed, her condition worsened.
‘Thought it was nothing’
Saiedah’s mother, Kamariah Hosni, grew desperate as she watched her suffer. The 52-year-old turned to jamu, buying the traditional Indonesian herbal medicine from a friend who imported it from Malaysia.
The acquaintance had claimed that her product, labelled “Jamu Kampong”, was good for relieving pain.
“If your daughter is in agony, whatever you have, you just give to her, right?” an emotional Mdm Kamariah told Yahoo! Singapore.
Jamu is popular among the Malay community here, according to Saiedah. In 2008, a jamu product branded “Lami” was found by Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority to contain sibutramine, an appetite suppressant used to treat obesity.
Both Mdm Kamariah and Saiedah said they were unaware of this.
“Maybe I’m not the reading type,” said the unfailingly polite Saiedah, who shared that it was her first time taking jamu. “But we thought it was nothing, just eat (sic).”
It never crossed Mdm Kamariah’s mind that the jamu would contain anything illegal. “On the bottle, it just says the ingredients are herbs, nothing else,” said the mother of three.
The packaging of the supplement, as provided by Mdm Kamariah, is written in Malay and lists ingredients such as rhubarb, ginger, honey and other natural extracts.
Saiedah is now certain the “Jamu Kampong” she took was the source of the banned substances that she tested positive for.
One mistake cost her
But the jamu didn’t help. The pain in Saiedah’s back never went away, and two days before the start of the national championships on 7 April, she walked into the Accident & Emergency department of Changi General Hospital.
Doctors could not provide a clear diagnosis, and instead prescribed more painkillers and a physiotherapy appointment in August. Saiedah was also given firm orders to rest.
But she proceeded with the competition anyway. “I fought through pain,” she said.
Saiedah went on to win the finals a week later on 14 April. That day marked her triumphant return, but it was also the day she would fail the drug test conducted by Anti-Doping Singapore. She was notified of her suspension six weeks later.
The veteran silat practitioner submitted an appeal last week, after letters from her mother and PERSISI were rejected by the National Anti-Doping Appeals Committee.
Saiedah’s friends and family have rallied behind her, and she spoke of strangers approaching to comfort her: “They know that if I wanted to (dope)… I would have done it during all my years of being a national athlete.”
But one person she cannot console enough is her mother, who blames herself for the entire debacle.
“I don’t want to ruin whatever she has gained,” said Mdm Kamariah, her voice cracking. “Poor thing, she has to face all this… It’s my fault. I really, really regret giving her the jamu.”
Make it right
Saiedah is keen to move forward. “I’m going to take this positively, as a lesson learned,” she smiled. “Next time, I’ll read up whatever I want to take.”
PERSISI chief Sheik Alauddin agreed, and said the “unfortunate” mistake was Saiedah’s for not checking what she was consuming.
Her next move will depend on the outcome of the appeal. She said: “Maybe this two-year ban will turn me off for life. Maybe it’s telling me, 'this is the end of your career, you need to rest now'.”
“But if the ban is reduced to less than one year, I will come back,” maintained Saiedah.
She revealed that she was planning on trying out “one last time” for the 2015 SEA Games squad, with an eye on the regional gold medal that has eluded her.
Does she worry that her name is now tainted?
“I don’t care what people might say,” she said. “I want to prove to them that this jamu doesn’t help in any way. I can do it through hard work. I can still win for Singapore.”
And in the process, achieve what is of utmost importance to Saiedah Said.
“Bring up the name of silat, and make my family proud,” she declared.
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