IOA wakes up from its slumber!

BATTERED and ridiculed after the Athens Olympics doping issue, involving two woman weightlifters, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has hit back with uncharacteristic vigour by banning the competitors for life. In the process, it has over-reached itself, ignoring well laid-down norms and procedures.

The role of a National Olympic Committee (NOC) in doping violation cases is very limited just as it is in the case of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the context of the Olympic Games. The IOC takes away medals and accreditations and expels the athletes concerned from the Games Village. Neither the IOC nor an NOC has the powers to suspend an athlete from his or her sport. That task is left to the international federation or the National federation concerned.

By announcing its decision to ban three weightlifters, Pratima Kumari, Sanamacha Chanu and Sunaina Anand, as well as coach Pal Singh Sandhu, for life, the IOA has unnecessarily complicated an issue that should have been handled solely by the National federation. It is a different matter altogether that more than a fortnight earlier the Indian Weightlifting Federation had taken a decision to impose life-bans on those testing positive in major international competitions.

Should first-time doping offenders get life-bans? The WADA Code does not say so; the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) anti-doping rules do not prescribe such a course of action. Still there might be no bar on individual sporting bodies adopting such a stance even as it goes against the very theme of `harmonisation' that WADA harps about. Will such a rule stand legal scrutiny? We have to wait and watch. One thing is certain; any punishment has to be commensurate with the severity of the crime. And the fundamental principle involved in the `harmonisation' theme of WADA has been that the punishment has to be the same in all sport.

The IOA and the National federation, which provisionally slapped a one-year suspension from all international competitions by the IWF, could have waited for the latter to finally dispose of the Pratima Kumari case before taking up the Singh Deo Commission report. In the event, the Singh Deo panel report has not been made public and thus no fresh light has been thrown on the subject of doping in Indian sport.

Yet, the tough stance adopted by the Indian federation, headed by its uncompromising new chief, H. J. Dora, cannot but be applauded. In a sport that is trying hard to shed its `doped image' at the international level, only a relentless campaign against doping will help bring credibility. At the same time, the IOA's failure to take the National federation to task is surprising. Though he has shown a newfound enthusiasm in tackling the doping menace, the IOA President, Suresh Kalmadi, needs to answer a few ticklish questions concerning the sport he heads before one can feel assured that the IOA believes in justice and fairplay.

More than one and a half years after the last National Games, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), of which Kalmadi is the president, is the only federation that has failed to dispose of the doping cases that came up at Hyderabad. P. Udaya Laxmi and Kavita Pandya are still under `provisional' suspension. Udaya Laxmi's steroid case in Hyderabad happened to be her second offence, for she had tested positive for nandrolone at the Punjab National Games, too. That means, going by the rules, a life-ban has to be imposed on her. The weightlifters surely have a reason to squeal, though at least two of them had returned `positives' at the National level in the past.

There is the question of foreign experts in athletics as well. If weightlifting coach Leonid Taranenko of Belarus should be blacklisted for his alleged role in the doping of Indian lifters in Athens, then Kalmadi has to look into the doping charts prepared by the Ukrainian experts who have been guiding our athletes for the past few years.

Kalmadi's oft-repeated argument that the Dope Control Centre in New Delhi is yet to gain accreditation and that has stymied his anti-doping campaign is a laughable excuse. Only 29 countries around the world have WADA-accredited labs. You need the will to go after the cheats rather than an accredited lab to run an effective anti-doping programme.

What about the Union Sports Ministry? Just because the IOA and the federation have dealt the knock-out punch against the lifters, the ministry should not sit back and relax till another major issue erupts. It has to start a clean-up operation straightaway. Hopefully, unlike the IOA, there would be no selective crackdown.