The menace has spread unchecked

THE news that a `doping chart' has been in circulation in the National athletics camp and that athletes and coaches might have been trafficking in prohibited drugs for several years should make sports-lovers sit up and ponder.

THE news that a `doping chart' has been in circulation in the National athletics camp and that athletes and coaches might have been trafficking in prohibited drugs for several years should make sports-lovers sit up and ponder. That public funds might have been used to stuff the youth of this country with an assortment of steroids and other drugs in the name of finding a `winning formula' is shocking and deserves the strongest condemnation possible.

Doping in Indian sports has spread unchecked through the past six years thanks to the apathy of the authorities. This, despite repeated assurances at every forum by the Government and the IOA that they are very serious about tackling the issue and they will come down heavily on the cheats and the dope-givers.

Now, it appears as though that taxpayers' money has been used to bring in foreign `experts', who in turn prescribe banned substances ranging from stanozolol to testosterone without having any permission to practise medicine in this country.

At a time when the international sports fraternity is keenly watching the developments in the United States, related to the BALCO controversy, in the run-up to the Athens Olympics, the Indian `doping chart' and the response — or the lack of it — from the authorities make for a pertinent study in contrast. If international focus has not shifted to the goings-on here, it is only because we do not have Olympic champions or world record holders in our midst.

But should we wait for an American-type of scandal to erupt? Should the authorities continue to ignore the dangerous practice of dope-taking in the guise of providing scientific support?

Deep within the system everyone believes that doping is rampant in Indian sports, especially athletics, at all levels. But no one is prepared to go `on record.' The `doping chart' has given the Sports Ministry the best lead it can hope to get in order to solve the Indian dope mystery. Provided of course the ministry is keen to crack the case.

For those who follow the sport, the phenomenal strides that the athletes make from season to season are the best indicators to assess the extent of doping. If athletes fail to come anywhere near those feats at major competitions abroad, the argument gets buttressed. Nothing illustrated this point better than the Sydney Olympics four years ago, when athlete after athlete fumbled at the first hurdle after record-breaking performances at home. The lone exception was K. M. Beenamol, who made the semifinals of the 400 metres.

"But they failed, didn't they? Then how can you suggest that there is doping in Indian athletics?'' might well be the argument by the Sports Ministry. The ministry would do well to remember that a sudden slump in performance levels should be as clear a pointer to doping as a surge in performance.

No athlete will take steroids close to competitions. Thus there is no point in testing them just before departure unless it is being done to protect the image of the country. Test the athletes in camps every fortnight or so up to six weeks prior to a major competition; then the true picture will emerge. Pending formation of a National anti-doping agency, the Government should constitute an ad hoc body to supervise such testing. Additional care has to be taken to ensure that the laboratory will test only such samples that are collected and dispatched under the supervision of the Government-nominated panel till such time a formal anti-doping agency is formed.

A lot of fuss is being made about the accreditation process of the dope control lab in Delhi. It will surely be beneficial to have the laboratory accredited, not just to facilitate testing at the time of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but also to ensure that clandestine testing is eliminated and that all positives will be known to the international agencies as well. It is an altogether different matter whether we actually need such a laboratory to be upgraded and maintained at a cost of crores of rupees, when at a lesser cost we will be able to test the samples at accredited labs abroad.

But then our dope-control measures should not be dependent on just the accreditation of a laboratory. Without accreditation, the federations have imposed sanctions on competitors including 21 from the last National Games in Hyderabad. If sanctions do not follow positive tests, the laboratory should refuse further testing for such federations.

The Government has also dragged its feet on the question of signing the WADA Code, citing procedural delays. Without that, an Olympic bid, which the IOA keeps talking about, will be impossible.