A nod for something odd

That it took the ICC a year to arrive at this simple, even if farcical, solution is a mystery. Of course, the rest of the cricket world will applaud the BCCI even as the ICC and the WADA pat each other. Who wants to go through with this hassle any way, asks K. P. Mohan.

“The ICC Code recognises and accepts that no advance notice out-of-competition testing is at the core of effective doping control, and without accurate information as to a player's whereabouts, such testing can be inefficient and often impossible.

“With that in mind, from 2009 onwards, the WADA Code requires the ICC to establish an International Registered Testing Pool (IRTP) of players who, upon selection, must provide information to the ICC about where they will be for every day (whereabouts information)”.

This is what the ICC has to say about the IRTP on its website. Even if this is removed in the light of the latest developments in ICC's anti-doping campaign, the philosophy behind this preface should remain forever.

The ICC says it has resolved the contentious issue of ‘whereabouts' rules in its anti-doping code.

It took a year to find a solution though it was available even before the Indian cricketers and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) raised a fuss and a debate about privacy and security almost forcing the ICC to walk out of its commitment to the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) Code.

The WADA has welcomed the recent move made by the ICC in resolving the issue, describing it as “another sign from cricket's governing body that it is serious about protecting the integrity of the sport”

WADA says it would mean that the ICC's out-of-competition testing programme, under which any player can be tested at any time, would now be strengthened and “it is a good step forward for cricket.”

The fundamental rationale behind out-of-competition testing in all sport has always been that an athlete could be tested any time anywhere. Such testing had to be strengthened with a ‘whereabouts' programme under which testing agencies could find the athlete to collect a sample at a specific location at a given time.

WADA has endorsed the ICC ‘whereabouts' rules on the argument that it was up to individual international federations to lay down norms for its IRTP. And, secondly, team sports can allow ‘whereabouts' information to be filed by team officials.

But do the criteria for drawing up the IRTP, now proposed by the ICC, reflect the ICC's evaluation of the “risks of out-of-competition doping” in cricket as demanded by the International Standards for Testing (IST), the basic document that lays down the ‘whereabouts' conditions?

It is difficult to get an affirmative answer to this, though both ICC and WADA want to tell the world that after a long debate they have finally found the key to break the deadlock caused by the BCCI's rejection of the IRTP list and the ‘whereabouts' programme.

Does the proposed IRTP actually project the top-ranked players as should be the case or does it simply list a handful of cricketers, with a past doping record?

The ICC's IRTP list has not been publicised. It can at the moment possibly contain those with a past doping record and those players who have not played at all for three months at a stretch and want to come back without giving a medical certificate to prove their fitness.

This clause about fitness is the most illogical one that any organisation could have had and it more or less rules out any player in this category. Who will refuse to give a certificate of fitness if the eventual consequence for such refusal is going to be a place in the IRTP and subsequent hassles about ‘whereabouts' filing?

What has a fitness certificate got to do with anti-doping? Does your fitness or lack of fitness show up in dope tests or is it related to your doping history? One has heard about injured players using steroids for faster recovery, but suppose you use it and get a certificate that you are fit? What's the big deal?

But let us look at the composition of the IRTP first and its minimum requirements. In the comment to the relevant rule that allows international federations to draw up its own IRTP, it is stated in the IST: “As a general principle, it is expected that an international Registered Testing Pool will include athletes who compete regularly at the highest level of international competition (e.g. candidates for Olympic, Paralympic or World Championship medals), determined by rankings or other suitable criteria. In accordance with Clause 4.4.4, an appropriate proportion of the out-of-competition tests specified in the IF's Test Distribution Plan must be carried out on athletes in the international Registered Testing Pool.”

There is of course some concession for team sports. But it is not like what the ICC has now stipulated, just a few past players with a doping record.

The relevant IST clause says: “An IF of a Team Sport may define its Registered Testing Pool by reference to teams, i.e. so that the athletes in its Registered Testing Pool are some or all of the athletes on particular teams within the relevant period.”

The team sports rules also allow ‘whereabouts' information to be filed by teams for all of the teams' collective activities. The responsibility to provide accurate information still lies with the players and even though teams could be penalised, the athletes would not be spared either.

The ICC has got a separate category of National Player Pool (NPP) in its revised ‘whereabouts' where the team rules apply. This is where it has accommodated almost all its leading players since the 11 top-ranked players of the top eight ODI teams would be in this list.

Teams are responsible for filing ‘whereabouts' information regarding team activities, hotel address etc in the NPP category. The players would be responsible when playing for a domestic team either at home or abroad. There is no 60-minute slot required to be given for 365 days a year as demanded for IRTP players.

The relaxation in team sports is only in the interpretation of whether to include individual players or whether to list teams as a whole in the IRTP. At least that is what WADA's rule-makers would have visualised.

By no stretch of imagination can it be meant to say that only those with a past doping record need be there in the list, especially in a sport where doping cases have been few and far between.

Does this mean that the ICC need not have a ‘whereabouts' stipulation on the argument that the sport does not have a doping record?

The WADA rule-makers did not think so. In its guidelines on ‘whereabouts' issued in 2008, WADA says: “In particular, an International Federation/NADO cannot say that a history of few if any adverse analytical findings demonstrates there is no risk of out-of-competition doping in a particular sport. Unless there has been a full and effective out-of-competition testing programme in that sport, based on the use of comprehensive athlete whereabouts information and other anti-doping intelligence, an absence of adverse analytical findings says little if anything about the risk of out-of-competition doping in the sport in question.”

The ICC, which signed up the WADA Code in 2006, started out-of-competition testing only in 2009, but its ‘whereabouts' programme was stalled because of the dispute caused by the Indian cricketers' refusal to accept the rules. It will resume in all its seriousness only now.

Apart from Shane Warne, who no longer plays representative cricket for Australia, and Mohammad Asif, the Pakistani pacer who underwent a one-year suspension for a doping charge in the IPL, the ICC can only have either retired cricketers or players who are yet to break into the top rankings in international cricket in its current IRTP as those with a “doping past”.

This will negate the very purpose behind the ‘whereabouts' rules that were made more stringent and thereby more controversial in 2009.

But then ‘peace' should prevail in this ‘whereabouts' wrangle between the ICC and WADA. It does not matter whether there had been a meaningful proposal to get over the problem created by the Indian cricketers.

Surprisingly there is no mention of woman cricketers in the revised IRTP of the ICC. There is also no statement about what should be the response of the Boards to the regulations of National Anti-Doping Organisations.

The BCCI has so far ignored requests from the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) to help it formulate a NADA ‘whereabouts' pool. Apart from making an occasional complaint, the NADA has maintained its helplessness. Cricket is cash-rich and too important in this country.

If WADA could have been satisfied with a handful of players, some retired, some non-active and some rarely-active cricketers being included in the IRTP list, it could have told the ICC a year ago and settled all the arguments about privacy, Indian Constitution, security threats etc then and there.

If retired cricketers cannot be included in this list, as is the case in all other international sports, then the ICC will have to seriously search for names beyond Asif to include in its IRTP.

The ICC had the example set by the International Football Federation (FIFA) which takes into account only players in a high-risk group, those with a past record and those recovering from serious injuries.

In football's case, the number of players with a past record is far greater than cricket. Compared to all other sport, the rules in both football and cricket do look a compromise to meet the letter of the WADA ‘whereabouts' rule but not its spirit.

That it took the ICC a year to arrive at this simple, even if farcical, solution is a mystery. Of course, the rest of the cricket world will applaud the BCCI even as the ICC and the WADA pat each other. Who wants to go through with this hassle any way?