A Sleepy Flight to Dope-Free Sports

Spiked Ashwini Akkunji, a gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games, has been banned since 2010
Spiked Ashwini Akkunji, a gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games, has been banned since 2010 Photo: AFP

LAST YEAR, India topped the global list of dope cheats in track and field events. As many as 40 Indian athletes were serving dope-related bans of varying duration across India when the International Association of Athletics Federation released its comparative figures in November 2012.

Following the data being made public, the chairman of the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) promised to establish registered dope testing pools in four months, while collaborating with the respective sports federations. Yet, even as the number of Indian athletes serving doperelated bans has gone up from 40 to 52, NADA has not established a registered national dope testing pool and continues to remain in talks with the federations to do so.

Athletes registered with the testing pools have to give an address where they will be available for a 60-minute time-slot between 6 am and 11 pm each day, to conduct out-of-competition testing.

This is a measure prescribed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as well as the Justice (retd) Mukul Mudgal Committee report that was submitted to the sports ministry last July after six Indian runners tested positive for steroids in 2010 before they were to leave for Japan to compete in the Asian Athletics Championship.

According to WADA, all anti-doping agencies that comply with its code must act as bodies responsible for prosecution, policing and anti-doping education. “NADA has so far only acted as a body for prosecution and policing. They need to work rigorously on educating athletes about doping norms and their rights,” says Justice Mudgal.

The report suggests that one of the biggest reasons behind the usage of banned substances is the lack of awareness among sportspersons, a majority of whom hail from backgrounds with little or no access to basic education and healthcare. In such a scenario, their knowledge about the status of substances — banned or otherwise — is either limited or absent. “The WADA code works chiefly at the elite level, in relation to testing. However, for grassroot level athletes it is important to run education programs,” says its director general David Howman.

Vidhushpath Singhania, a sports lawyer, who co-authored the book Sports Law in India along with Justice Mudgal says, “Lack of awareness becomes a pertinent issue given the fact that many medicines prescribed for common ailments in India are found to contain banned substances. For instance, asthacin, which is a banned substance, is often found in some brands of cold medicines. Similarly, prednisone is another banned substance is found in some brands of anti-inflammatory sprays and medicines.”

NADA Director-General Mukul Chatterjee says that the agency provided athletes with booklets that contained an updated list of banned substances as set by WADA. But is a mere provision of a list of substances enough?

Anti-doping agencies in UK and Canada have a helpline to tackle such situations. An athlete can call up the helpline before consuming a supplement or medicine to ensure that it does not contain a banned substance. Even Justice Mudgal’s report suggested that a helpline be made operational. When Chatterjee was asked about the possibility of such a system being put in place in India, he said, “Everyone talks about helplines as a solution to various social issues. But in reality, getting a physical phone-line doesn’t work. We need to get competent people to man it continuously. Also, we are not equipped to handle the rush that comes with the setting up of a helpline.”

Although, he acknowledges the need for a fullfledged education programme by NADA, all plans still remain in the pipeline. At present, they have no concrete, time-bound education programme for sportspersons. The few programmes that they conduct are limited to major sporting events.

For now, despite receiving a clear set of guidelines from Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee, Chatterjee says, “Progress in such matters is always slow in such set ups which are directly under the government control.”



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