Sport, a business now?

``The point is when you catch 21, you may be shielding 79 who may have the blessings of the officialdom. After initial warning, if you start banning players for life, it will serve as a strong deterrent to doping'', says swimmer, Khajan Singh.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Sport is not just sport any more. It is business, career, glamour and many other things rolled into one. Like in all spheres of life where there is a lot of money and fame at stake, sport is no exception when it comes to people trying to take a shortcut to success.

In the modern society, where people have become more and more greedy, there are ten crooks trying to make a happy living by easy means, to every honest man who strives to earn his bread the hard way.

Sport provides a great relief to most of us, much more than the entertainment value, because the percentage of cheats is far less, as compared to the rest of the society. The recent trend shows that the ratio is changing for the worse every day, in an alarming fashion.

With the government incentives having gone up many folds, and with most of the organisations offering incentives for sporting excellence in some form or the other, there is a strong urge to do well, by hook or crook.

The former coach of the Indian Davis Cup team Akhtar Ali echoes the sentiments, but is quick to point out that money as such is good for sport.

``Efforts should be made not only to punish the guilty athletes, but also the coaches and the officials. We should all think about the future generations and ensure that they don't suffer,'' says Akhtar Ali.

Having travelled around the world on coaching assignments and brought up his son Zeeshan Ali as a professional tennis player, Akhtar Ali understands the struggle to make a mark in professional sport. He, however, strongly counters the argument that money is the main reason for doping.

``There is plenty of money in cricket, there is money to be made in tennis every day. There is no doping in these games,'' Akhtar Ali argues.

Yes, a mass sport like cricket in India, in which stamina and endurance are as important as in any other discipline, there is no trace of doping.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have earned abound six million dollars between them, winning titles from Grand Slams to Asian Games to Olympics, without having to resort to doping.

Jaspal Rana and Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat have been winning international medals by the dozen against world class opposition in shooting, with pure competence and little else. Between the two of them, Jaspal and Anjali were tested nearly ten times during the last Commonwealth Games, when India won 14 gold medals in shooting.

In fact, the secretary general of the International Sport Shooting Federation (ISSF), Horst G. Schreiber thanked the shooters for keeping the sport clean at the end of the last World Championship in Lahti, Finland, in which there was not a single positive test to report.

The government cash awards for shooting are as lucrative as they are for weightlifting and athletics, which have come under the microscope in recent times, for rampant use of dope.

``Earlier doping was practised just to make it to the national team. Now there is money to be won even in the National Games, where the gold, silver and bronze medallists get three, two and one lakh rupees respectively. Athletes are just trying their luck, hoping that nobody would catch them'', says the ace swimmer of yesteryear, Khajan Singh.

That argument can perhaps be countered by the fact that there were 16 positive cases of doping in the Punjab National Games in which the organisers hardly had money to host the events, let alone give incentives. The Hyderabad National Games recorded 21 positive cases, a minor increase in the number of offenders as compared to the major dose of incentives that were on offer.

``The point is when you catch 21, you may be shielding 79 who may have the blessings of the officialdom. After initial warning, if you start banning players for life, it will serve as a strong deterrent to doping'', says Khajan.

``There is no way that an athlete will dope without the knowledge of the coach or the federation. The sudden jump in performances will be a clear indication. If you are serious about eradicating doping, you can do it. There is a lot of drama and not much concrete action at the moment'', says the former national hockey coach M. K. Kaushik.

``It is the coaches, officials and the federations who are more eager to produce results, at any cost. Fielding overaged players in the sub-junior and junior events has been there for a long time, and that is the beginning of cheating. Basically, we are teaching them to cheat at a young age, rather than educating them about the ethics,'' says Kaushik.

Money is the positive motivator, and if you take it away, the sport will fall flat on its face.

``Look at cricket. Every boy in this country wants to play the game because there is money, career and glamour in it. There is a healthy system to tap talent and nurture it. That is how the game is flourishing,'', says Kaushik.

Yes, the need of the hour is a honest authority, that will not spare anyone. It is pure vigilance that can ensure that sport stays healthy, and the cheats do not walk away with the booty. For sure, if you take the money away, sport will die a natural death.