AFI chief agrees to send drug cheats to jail

“I am all for it, why should the sport be dirty? We must protect clean athletes, that is our job as a federation,” says AFI president Adille Sumariwalla in a chat with Sportstar.

Adille Sumariwalla... “Why should our athletes be pampered and protected if they are on dope? I’m very clear on this.”   -  K. Murali Kumar

Indian athletics hit a mysterious high with some world-class performances during the run-up to the Rio Olympics last year. Athletes like Renjith Maheswary, Ankit Sharma, Dutee Chand and the relay teams all produced their best on the road to Rio only to flop at the Olympics, which proved something was seriously wrong.

Now, the Athletics Federation of India has given its thumbs-up to the Sports Ministry’s planned anti-doping law that could send offenders to jail. “I am all for it, why should the sport be dirty? We must protect clean athletes, that is our job as a federation,” said AFI president Adille Sumariwalla in a chat with Sportstar, from Mumbai, on Wednesday.

“For the last three years, I have been pushing the government to do it. They should be giving credit to Adille Sumariwalla for this. I had said that anybody caught giving dope to athletes should be put in jail. The same for athletes, they should be in jail too.”

Some of the sport’s stars, including Asian shot put champion Inderjeet Singh – the lone Indian to strike gold at the World University Games – along with 200m national record-holder Dharambir Singh and Asian Games women’s 4x400m relay gold medallist Priyanka Panwar all failed dope tests last year and missed the Rio Olympics.

Some well-known athletes would have been in trouble had the law to criminalise doping in sport been in effect earlier, but Sumariwalla isn’t worried. “If Marion Jones (the American sprinter who won three golds at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but who was forced to return them many years later after admitting to taking performance-enhancing drugs) can go to jail, who are these athletes?,” said Sumariwalla, who is also a member of the IAAF (the international governing body for athletics) council.

Issues

“In my view, there is really no greater athlete than Marion Jones. So, why should our athletes be pampered and protected if they are on dope? I’m very clear on this.”

Jones, it must be mentioned here, was not jailed for taking dope but for lying to government investigators about it. Looking back at some of last year’s magical performances, does the AFI chief feel that doping could have been a big reason? “I can’t pinpoint whether they were doping issues or performance-manipulation issues but I can say that there definitely were issues,” he said. “I’m sure of that, otherwise our performance would not have varied so much.”

With India getting ready to host the Asian championship in Bhubaneswar in July, Sumariwalla revealed that there were frequent dope tests at national camps currently. “Every 10 days there is dope-testing at the national camps. The problem is, people are running away from national camps. Most of the people who were caught last time were training outside the national camp or running away from one place to another.”