Ignorance is no excuse for the position badminton ace Zhou Mi finds herself in - banned from the sport for two years, dropped from the Asian Games squad and also possibly out of the 2012 London Olympics. Effectively, the 31-year-old's playing career is over. Why? Because in June, Zhou was in Singapore and feeling under the weather. So she went to a pharmacy and bought some Chinese medicine to treat her fever. She did not know that the drug contained a banned substance. This is her explanation. It may well be true, but it is hard to comprehend how a world-class athlete, who has toured the world in the past two decades, first representing China and now Hong Kong, could have so foolishly put her faith in the recommendation of a pharmacist. You could forgive a raw, up-and-coming teenage athlete for making such a blunder. But Zhou? You would expect the former world number one to be more street-wise about the pitfalls of taking an over-the-counter medication without checking if it contains any of the substances banned by Wada - the World Anti-Doping Agency. In an out-of-competition test in June, soon after the Singapore Open, Zhou tested positive to Clenbuterol, a class A anabolic agent on the list prohibited by Wada. People with breathing disorders, such as asthma, are usually prescribed Clenbuterol. It is also well-known in horse racing circles as a treatment for respiratory ailments. More recently, it's been touted as a weight-loss drug. But it's also a stimulant that increases aerobic capacity and the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream, which is why it landed on the list of banned substances for athletes. Zhou has appealed against the mandatory two-year ban slapped on her by the Badminton World Federation, on the basis of ignorance. It is a hard sell, for this is always the excuse that athletes who cheat - from Marion Jones to Floyd Landis - come up with. Last Sunday, a tearful Zhou told the Hong Kong media: 'Over my career of more than 20 years, I have a clean doping record and have never used any prohibited drugs.' But how clean you were in the past doesn't count - Zhou has got to show enough evidence that she made a genuine mistake. It is tough as she cannot rely on the tired defence that she was unaware of prohibited substances. That won't hold water, especially in Hong Kong where athletes are warned about taking over-the-counter drugs. In September 2008, the Hong Kong Anti-Doping Committee was established with the mission of 'preserving a doping-free environment for fair play in sport in Hong Kong'. The independent committee, under the auspices of the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee, has a comprehensive website where it tells athletes everything about how to avoid inadvertent doping, which supplements to take, which to avoid, and the health risks and side-effects of doping among other issues. Clenbuterol is high on the list of prohibited drugs on this website. So as far as educating the athletes on the dangers of banned drugs goes, the authorities are doing a good job. Similarly, the Hong Kong Sports Institute, where Zhou was an elite athlete (her scholarship has now been terminated) also instructs its members about doping issues and how to avoid falling into the den of iniquity. 'We emphasis a clean playing field for all athletes through our values statement, and through in-house education and information dissemination, and also through collaboration with the Hong Kong Anti-Doping Committee,' institute chief executive Trisha Leahy said. According to Leahy, athletes overseas can get in touch with the institute's in-house medical consultant 24 hours a day to enquire on the safety of medication. So once again, Zhou's argument of ignorance - 'I was not aware a prohibited substance could be in the medication' - is unlikely to hold water. This is a sad case. Everything she has achieved in her career will now be forgotten. What will stick is the label of 'drug cheat'. A sorry end to all those years of dedication and hard work. She is the second athlete to fall foul of the rules since the Hong Kong Anti-Doping Committee was established. Last year, swimmer Johnny Lau Chun-leung, a member of the East Asian Games squad, was banned for two years after testing positive for steroids. He was 17, and at the other end of the age spectrum to Zhou. Which raises the question: Are athletes really gullible, or are they looking for an easy route to fame and fortune? Winning medals at major games, especially the Asian Games, brings financial reward. The lure of money can be an incentive to cheat. Then again, athletes could simply be naive. We have no way of knowing for sure. Perhaps the only way to fight this is to legalise drugs and make it a level playing field for everyone. For there is no doubt that for every one athlete caught doping, a couple of others go scot free. Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch once suggested legalising drugs so that athletes would then be able to take them under supervision. We would then have that much-vaunted level playing field, moral issues aside. What we have right now is only Zhou's word that she is innocent.