`Time to educate youngsters about drug use'

UNFORTUNATELY, Indian weightlifters are in focus for the wrong reasons.

M. C. RAMAN

UNFORTUNATELY, Indian weightlifters are in focus for the wrong reasons.

UNFORTUNATELY, Indian weightlifters are in focus for the wrong reasons. Though it is one sport in which India has always been a medal winner in international competitions — whether it is Commonwealth Games, Asian Championship or Asian Games not to speak of the Olympics, which Karnam Malleswari proved was not beyond India's reach — it is the surfeit of drug-related cases that makes news. The question, therefore, arises why was the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF) pushed to the desperate act of slapping a ban on the offenders?

Former Olympian Tamil Selvan is frank when he talks about the subject. According to Selvan, weight lifters normally follow the advice of seniors and coaches in striving for greater achievement. If the seniors and coaches happen to be honest and dedicated, the lifters who obey them evade the `dope trap'. But, if the coaches and seniors want to reach their goals through the `shorter' route instead of hard and sustained practice, the lifters go astray and pay a heavy price.

With the country's leading lifters getting ready for the Commonwealth Games, Asian Championship and Asian Games in the next two years, it is going to be a hectic and challenging time for them. However, the spectre of drugs looms large in the background, and in this interview, Tamil Selvan discusses various aspects of dope problems and the need for educating the current crop of lifters. Excerpts:

Question: There is so much talk about the lifters getting banned for drug abuse. As a former Olympian and Arjuna Award winner what are your views on this major issue?

Answer: It is a very disturbing trend. There is no system in our country for the lifters to know what or what not to do. Most of them follow their seniors and, of course, coaches. This has been the trend from my days. But the problem of drugs did not figure in our days. We must educate our lifters from a very young age about the catastrophic effects of drugs. They must definitely know what they take even for small ailments. Of course, the IWF is also taking some strong measures to prevent the lifters from taking short cuts.

You were an excellent lifter from 1975 to '85. You have stayed long in this sport and you belong to a different generation, the `less tainted' era. What was the situation then? How did you manage to get so many laurels for such a long period?

During those days, we did not have so much of talk about drugs in the sport. Lifters like me came from villages and small places. Like me, many of them came from small places such as Sathuvacheri, which alone has produced more than 10 Olympians, more than any other place in the country. So we never had any awareness about drugs. It was just seven to eight hours hard practice every day. We were particular about what we ate despite our poor background. The practice sessions were exhausting and we had to make up the energy we lost. We did not even know about pain-killers. I won the silver medal in the Commonwealth Games at Edmonton, Canada, in 1978 in the 56 kg. I was asked for my urine sample. I was surprised because I did not have anything like that in India. After two days they returned my medal. I was the first Indian to set the Commonwealth record with a snatch of 105 kg. We were worried about the test and I thought it could be due to food. But it blew over.

Why are the Indian lifters going astray now? In the last five or six years there have been more cases of drug abuse and bans. Satisha Rai, Madasamy and the women lifters in the Athens Olympics are cases in point. It is embarrassing. What is going wrong?

Even now the lifters follow their seniors. When they go abroad for training they may learn about drugs without knowing the consequences of using it. There is every chance of some lifters going astray because of misguidance.

What about the syringes behind the doors during weightlifting competitions? It is said that even during local competitions you find them.

All those syringes are not for taking steroids or stimulants. These modern boys know more about medicines than people like me at that age. They take vitamins. Some may take pain-killers. I don't deny that. But it is here we have to catch them and put them on the right track.

How much do drugs enhance a person's lifting capacity? As a former Olympian and a diploma holder in the international coaching course you must be able to throw some light.

It can increase the lift by five to 10 kg in an ordinary weightlifter's case. But if the lifter is trained by a foreign coach or backed by a good team he can increase by 15 to 20 kg. This is in Indian conditions. But a 20 or 21-year-old boy who goes to Russia for training and avails of better facilities such as diet, climate and advanced sports medicine can improve by 30 to 40 kg. An Indian can sustain his performance till he is 27 or 28. My last best performance was when I was 27. At the time I was practising for eight hours a day. During my period, the gap between the top lifter in the world and me was just about 10 kg. We were not fine tuned with more exposure and training as it is happening now. But now the difference is between 28 to 30 kg.

Why was Satisha Rai and Madasamy treated differently though both were caught...

In Satisha Rai's case, it was stimulants. But, in Madasamy's case, it was steroids. And taking steroids is a very serious offence. Moreover, Rai wrote a letter to the Federation requesting them to grant him permission to take part in local tournaments. Now he is out of the ban and he has won the gold in an international competition. He also paid 1000 dollars as fine. But Madasamy refused to accept the test and did not pay the fine. He stuck to his belief that he did not violate anything. That was his undoing.

What are India's chances in the coming events such as the Commonwealth Games?

We have promising lifters such as Karutha Pandian, Vinoth, Jagir and Sudhir Kumar. But international competition is becoming tougher. Nigeria, Australia, Pakistan and Malaysia are all coming up fast and will challenge us in the Commonwealth Games. Our medal winning record was excellent in 1978, 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. Of course, we have done well in lower categories and we must now work hard to do well in higher classes. Iran, Iraq, Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the Asian front liners. They are also matching up to the world standard now. We have to plan better. In women's section China is right on top at the world level. If we beat them we can also go for Olympic medal. But for that we must have a four-year coaching system in place. We must widen the talent base from that in the existing pockets such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Services, Railways, Manipur and the Police.

* * * IWF's latest course of action on drug use

Positive test for substances other than stimulants in Olympics, Asiad, C'wealth Games and World and Asian championships — Life ban on first offence.

Positive test for stimulants — Suspension (2 years) and fine Rs. 5000.

Positive test for steroids (domestic) — Suspension (2 yrs) and fine Rs. 5000.

2nd positive test (domestic) — Life ban.

Positive test for stimulants (domestic) — Suspension (1 yr) and fine Rs. 5000.

2nd positive test for stimulants — Suspension (2 yrs) and fine Rs. 10,000.

Two or more positive tests in one calendar year — Suspension of affiliated unit (1 year) and fine Rs. 10,000. Barred from contests if fine is not paid in 60 days.

Action against coaches — Same as mentioned above.

Action against Sports boards conducting events without dope test — No qualified technical official of IWF shall be nominated for such competitions.

* * * Tamil Selvan's life and times

1975 to 78 — Gold medal in State, Inter-Railway, National Junior and Senior Championships in 56 kg.

1978 — C'wealth Games (Edmonton) — Silver. 1978 — Best Sportsman of Indian Railways. 1978 — Arjuna Award. 1980 — Gold in Senior Nationals in 56 kg. 1980 — Moscow Olympics participation.

1981 — Asian Championship (Nagoya) — Bronze (60 kg).

1982 — Mamallan (TN) Award. 1982 — C'wealth Games (Brisbane) — Silver. 1982 — Asian Games (New Delhi). 1983 — Asian Championship (Damascus). 1984 — SAF Games (Kathmandu) — Gold.

1984 — World Railways Championship (Bulgaria).

1985 — C'wealth Games (New Zealand) — Bronze. 1985 — SAF Games (Dhaka) — Gold. 1985 — National Games (Delhi) — Gold.