'We are very serious about it'

Even the cocktail crowd, which does not care about sports, is taking about the doping by Indian sportspersons.

RAKESH RAORAKESH RAO

"Even the cocktail crowd, which does not care about sports, is taking about the doping by Indian sportspersons.'' The comment from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Secretary-General Randhir Singh puts in a nutshell the furore caused by the reports regarding dope-taking by our sportspersons at international and national-level competitions in recent times.

"This is the beginning of the first, real movement to clean up, as far as doping is concerned. Let's be very honest about it," says Randhir Singh. — Pics. ANU PUSHKARNA-

Randhir Singh, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well as the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) spoke on the issue and explained how the IOA plans to tackle the growing menace.

Question: Is this the start of the clean-up operations ?

Answer: Yes. You are right. This is the beginning of the first, real movement to clean up, as far as doping is concerned. Let's be very honest about it. Earlier, our laboratory was not really in place. And if you say that we had everything going, I think it's a wrong statement. Now we have all the machinary you require. Even the technicians have improved. Yes. We can do up to 15 to 20 tests a day on equipment that can do 50 tests a day. But it's still a beginning.

What about the tests conducted during the Punjab National Games 2001?

That was the first time. It was done in a serious manner but they were not up to the mark. We never really took it as a serious exercise. Basically, it was a pre-run to the Afro-Asian Games that we were to hold in 2001. Then the Afro-Asian Games were postponed. As far as the machinary went, it was in place. But the lab, too, was revamped. Last year, we went across to Hyderabad (for the National Games) and then we said, now we start the whole thing. The results of which you all are aware of.

Why was the list of those tested positive in the Punjab National Games swept under the carpet?

Whatever cases came to us, we forwarded them to the federations. They also looked at the facilities and the laboratory. Lots of samples have been tested by them since then. To my mind, by the time of Hyderabad National Games, it was more or less ready.

Why is there a general feeling of all this being a cover-up?

Lots of people, lots of friends in the media felt that it was just a cover-up for what is happening or what is called the state-sponsored doping. I don't think it is a cover-up. We are very serious about it because it gives our country a very bad name, bad name for the athlete concerned, spoils the health of the athlete and it sends a wrong signal, like many other countries before us, that all we are trying to is to become a super power in sports through doping.

Are you satisfied with whatever you have accomplished so far?

First and foremost, people felt that tests were taking place but nothing would come out of it. Nothing will happen out of the results. Some of our closest friends felt that the 22 who tested positive (at the Hyderabad National Games) nothing would happen to them. They've been proven wrong. Regarding the swimmer (Amar Muralidharan), as per the FINA rules, we are going through the procedure. For the rest, the results have been announced. We have really come down strongly on this. Let me assure you, it will be getting tougher and tougher.

What other steps have you taken to tackle the drug menace?

We are sending out letters to all the State Olympic associations that they must have an Anti-Doping Committee and see that nothing happens. After all, in the National Games, teams are brought by the State Olympic association and not the federations. We want this nipped in the bud at this level. We are going to start from this level onwards. Then you have the federations which did not have anti-doping commissions are setting it up now. So they are already on the job. Then, the Sports Authority of India and the Indian Olympic Association will have joint-seminars at centres where the training is going on. That's very important. Through the Sports Authority, we can utilise their coaches and their various programmes to spread awareness. The coaches attached with schemes in the villages can also be very useful.

Are you confident of getting competent people to deal with the job on hand?

Every State has top class doctors. Like we have done, we have doctors or top technical sports people in our committee. They have nothing to do with office-bearers (of the federation) or the administrators. We are trying to involve people who are absolutely technical.

What scenario do you visualise once India signs the WADA Code?

What is important is India accepting the WADA Code. They've accepted it in priciple and they'll be signing it soon. Now, through the Education Ministry, this (doping-related) information can go down to the colleges, schools and the primary levels. And then, through the Health Department, to all the fitness centres which have come up all over. These fitness centres don't come under the Sports Ministry but the medical side. Thereafter, find out if there are any loopholes in the legal system and inform the courts that there is a law or a code as far as doping is concerned. We can't fiddle around with it and we have to implement whatever decisions, the government is a signatory to. When it is law, we have to go by whatever the rules are.

Today, it also depends on the International Federations. If the International Federations have already agreed or signed, then they are governed by the WADA Code.

How are you going to sustain the momentum?

I think it's not going to get any less. The check will improve. Today it is the IOA and some federations doing it. Tomorrow, some more State Olympic associations and federations following suit. You see, they are not going to do the tests. The tests would be done at the laboratory here (Delhi). But they will be doing random checks. Many of the athletes come and say we did not know about it. Well, you and me know that most them know it. That's why they are taking it. To say that we don't know, doesn't help.

From the point of view of those who take performance-enhancing drugs, is the pay-off in terms of medals, fame and monetary returns much more than the cost he or she eventually pays?

Let's start from why an athlete takes to drugs before saying what we are interested in. First comes the medal, that he wins. Then the medal gets him incentives. He gets a job, or if he already has a job, he gets a promotion. Then he gets the cash incentives. He gets publicity. The other side of it is how he or she make commercial use of this publicity. What we are interested in, is the reputation of the country, the bad name it brings to the sport and thirdly, which to my mind is the most important factor, the health of the concerned sportsperson.

But what about the IOA or the federations talking about winning a certain number of medals thereby putting more pressure on the sportspersons?

There may be certain federations with vested interests. May be, there are federations, or certain coaches who are putting players under pressure. May be there are coaches or some other people who are abetting the players in some way. It is very difficult to draw a line there. You don't know who is doing it or not doing it. It is all hearsay that people are encouraging doping, the coaches are giving dope, may be the sports scientists are helping or the medical doctors involved are doing it.

But there has to be somebody. But the way people are doing it... it is going on... it's a little more... because not only taking dope, the medicine, but also masking agents. You don't take a masking agent unless you are taking dope. It's a vicious cycle. Why talk only about India, the problem is international.

We should not take look at India as a flag-bearer for doping. No. We are one of them and we're just coming up. When you know the glory of sport and... it is no longer a gentleman sport.

There is professional attitude towards sports and then in professional things, anything goes. Then other things, besides the honour of representing one's country, happen. So when professionalism comes in, these are all the add-ons.

Is this recently acquired anti-doping stance more due to the post-Busan hapennings?

I wouldn't say that. I would say that it the awareness about doping around the world. Secondly, our own athlete getting stuck. Thirdly, our own laboratory, which may not have got the IOC accreditation but will get a temporary accreditation soon. It's a fact that you have a National laboratory, which has the equipment, and has the technicians who can do the job. The ISO certifications are coming, only one is left. The only thing that is keeping the accreditation away is the ISO 17025. By the end of June, we should get it.

Since pre-departure dope tests, it is said, are unethical, almost State-abetted doping, will you be looking at the possibility of stopping them altogether?

Various countries say that when it is State-sponsored doping, the teams that are going out are screened and sent abroad. Ethically, it's wrong. I don't know how many countries are not doing it.

The concept is that you should try and test every athlete, say in the selection trials. How and when you do it is important. Since the prestige of the country is involved, I would hate to send an athlete who has been on dope.

I'm sure these tests will carry on but not on a screening fashion but random. We have to do it.