Boxed in!

With his reputation in tatters, Vijender Singh is definitely going through the toughest phase in his career. The test conducted on the directions of the Sports Ministry has given the boxer a clean chit (but it neither has any impact nor any validity), and Vijender has tougher tests to pass. Y.B. Sarangi takes a look at the issue.

For Vijender Singh, it would have been easier had he tested positive for narcotics during a competition. Maybe, like hockey goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza (who had tested positive for a recreational drug), the top boxer would have got away with a few months’ suspension.

Vijender’s alleged connection with a heroin racket (as far as consumption of the drug is concerned), his refusal to give blood and hair samples to police following which he remained out-of-bounds, the endless speculative stories and trials of his family members in the media, the Union Sports Ministry asking the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) to take samples from the boxer and testing them at the National Dope Testing Laboratory (in violation of the World Anti-Doping Code) — all these have made life miserable for the boxer who won the first-ever Olympics boxing medal for the country.

The whole episode has proved a huge setback for the ace boxer’s morale as well as his career. Vijender, who had returned from the London Olympics empty-handed, had been planning to fight in a higher weight division (light heavy) and was eager to prepare well for the World Championship scheduled in September. He was also keen to do well in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games next year.

Now, the National hero’s career has gone haywire.

With his reputation in tatters, Vijender is definitely going through the toughest phase in his career. The test conducted on the directions of the Sports Ministry has given the boxer a clean chit (but it neither has any impact nor any validity), but Vijender has tougher tests to pass. The Punjab Police have refused to accept the NDTL test results and want the boxer to go through certain tests at a lab they rely on.

As far as the World Anti-Doping Code is concerned, taking heroin is banned in-competition only. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in a recent communication, said, “Given that samples may be collected and alkalized only for anti-doping purposes, taking a sample out-of-competition to look for heroin would be a breach of the World Anti-Doping Code art. 6.2.”

Still, the NDTL, on the insistence of the Sports Ministry, went ahead to do a “full menu test,” including “testing for psychotropic substances.” This means the NDTL performed all possible tests (for all banned substances in-competition and out-of-competition) on samples collected out-of-competition.

Since there was no competition, even if Vijender had tested positive for heroin in the NDTL test, he could not have been penalised for it. In any case, the test results of Vijender’s blood and urine samples were expected to come negative since the samples were collected after a long gap from the day Punjab Police busted the racket.

Unprecedented developments like Sports Minister Jitendra Singh revealing that Vijender’s samples had been collected and the Sports Ministry informing that the boxer had returned a negative result raise several questions.

The reasons for the Ministry going out of its way to pursue a dope test, against all norms, including the WADA Code and the International Standards for Laboratories, are not known. Unwittingly, the Ministry has fanned a controversy and further damaged the reputation of the beleaguered pugilist.

World Cup bronze-medal-winning boxer V. Devarajan feels that for his own good Vijender needs to make an effort and bring an end to this turmoil in his life. “People do commit mistakes. Big sporting icons like Michael Phelps and Maradona have taken recreational drugs in the past and come out and admitted it. If Vijender has taken any drugs, he should admit it and bring an end to the issue. If he has not, he should show the proof to the world,” said Devarajan. Vijender’s family members have vehemently denied the allegations and defended him. Other than his close friend Ram Singh, who has been arrested by Punjab Police in the case, several fellow boxers and coaches have also backed Vijender.

“In the 15-16 years I have spent with him, I have never seen him drinking or smoking…He may have been cleared by NADA, but he has to go through the Punjab Police investigation before he can focus on his training,” said a coach working at the National camp in Patiala.

Since the story broke about his links with the drug peddlers in March, Vijender has been on leave from the National camp in Patiala. The Sports Ministry has said that he would not be included in any camp at present as he has gone on leave without citing any reason. Since there is no big assignment in the next few months, Vijender will try to get over the problem before rejoining the National camp.

Besides, Vijender has to win many social and psychological battles before resuming his career as a respected boxer.