‘The tainted athletes must prove their innocence’

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IOA interim president VK Malhotra tells Kunal Majumder that only strict action can fix doping menace once and for all

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Union sports minister Ajay Maken has ordered the sacking of all the athletics coaches. Do you think this move will resolve the issue of doping?
We had demanded a judicial inquiry and I’m satisfied that it has been ordered. We have to get into the details of everything — coaches, athletes and doctors in order to resolve this issue. Earlier, hundreds of cases came to light but they were all swept under the carpet and everybody got away with it. They thought they would get away this time as well. The judge should punish all the culprits. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre is directly under the sports ministry and therefore the minister should be responsible for what is happening at SAI centres. The coaches, both foreign and local, doctors, officials and athletes are all on the payroll of the government. Even the food that is available at the SAI centres comes under the ministry.

Athletes who failed the dope test are claiming innocence. They blame contaminated food supplements for the negative results. Do you think there is any truth in this claim?
Now that a judicial inquiry has been initiated, the athletes are accusing the coaches and the coaches are accusing the doctors, the doctors are accusing the administrators and blaming the food. In a sting operation, it was clearly shown that drug suppliers are present at SAI centres. This racket has been going on for a long time. Strong action should be taken. We want a comprehensive inquiry to expose the nexus between the drug suppliers, coaches, doctors and other officials along with the tainted sportspersons.

American track & field legend Mike Powell recently said that athletes could have made a genuine mistake. Do you agree with him?
These athletes have been competing for a long time. They know what to take and what not to. The athletes who failed the doping test have to prove themselves innocent. How can they claim to be innocent? Our sporting image has taken a beating. This is disgraceful.

The sports minister also spoke about the need to investigate SAI officials. From your experience, do you think the officials are more to blame than the athletes?
This has to be investigated. There can be both honest and corrupt administrators. It has to be looked into seriously.

Do you think the government is intentionally turning a blind eye to this problem?
(Laughs) I won’t say that. But the bureaucrats are definitely ignoring the issue. The athletes did bring honour to the country but with this they have brought shame. We must fix this problem, once and for all.

Is there something the Indian Olympic Association can do to control this problem?
That is why we have asked for a judicial inquiry. It should be a time-bound one. We will see what we can do about it.

What are you planning to do for the next Olympics so that we don’t face the same embarrassment?
That is why we are asking the government to take quick action. They should send their representatives to SAI camps. The camps can’t be controlled only by local officials. The government should allow representatives from the federations to be there so that they can keep an eye.

You have demanded a judicial probe into the matter. Do you think there is something fundamentally wrong with our sports culture?
I would like to wait for the judge’s pronouncement.

Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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