Why the apprehension?

Backing the players… the BCCI secretary N. Srinivasan and president Shashank Manohar (right) address the media after an emergency meeting with the ICC in Mumbai.-PTI Backing the players… the BCCI secretary N. Srinivasan and president Shashank Manohar (right) address the media after an emergency meeting with the ICC in Mumbai.

The worst that WADA can do is to go back to pre-2009 or else give a few concessions to team sports. Either way there will be no escape for cricketers from submitting ‘whereabouts’ information, writes K. P. Mohan.

International cricket is in turmoil once again. No, not because someone has called an Aussie a monkey, or a match referee has handed out a set of harsh disciplinary decisions against Indian cricketers. The latest stand-off between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) stems from the refusal of 11 Indian players, including two women, to submit themselves to the ‘whereabouts’ clause in the 2009 ICC anti-doping code.

The ICC has been caught in an embarrassing situation. It could have assessed the viewpoints of all members, especially on the ‘whereabouts’ rule, and then gone for the revision of its code.

Neither the Indian players nor the BCCI is used to anti-doping rules bar the few occasions they have been subjected to testing during ICC competitions including the World Cup and the two editions of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Out-of-competition testing is an entirely new concept for cricket though the majority of the sports world had been following it for many years.

The genesis of the ongoing controversy dates back to March this year when, if reports are to be believed, the Indian players came to know of ‘whereabouts’ rules and no-advance-notice testing. The players were in New Zealand then. Unfortunately, by then the ICC had approved its revised code that was to come into effect from January 1, 2009. There was no going back for the ICC.

Initial reports regarding the Indian players’ apprehensions about the ‘whereabouts’ rules did not suggest that the situation could lead to a confrontation with the ICC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). But that is what has happened now. On August 1, the Board met in Mumbai to back the players who stated that they were game for dope tests, but would not agree to ‘whereabouts’ rules that, according to them, encroached on their privacy and could compromise the security of some of them.

The Board agrees the players have a strong case. Board President Shashank Manohar went to the extent of saying the ICC/WADA rules breached privacy provisions enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

There has been an uproar since that Sunday, with the media, non-cricket sportspersons, officials in charge of anti-doping agencies and Indian sports officials urging the cricketers to review their decision and pointing out that there cannot be different rules for different sport or just one set of players in a particular sport. The whole purpose of setting up WADA (in 1999) and formulating a uniform Code would then be defeated.

The cricketers have pointed out how difficult their lives have been since they play nine to 10 months a year nowadays, leaving them with very little time to spend with their families. Could it be any different for the majority of other top international sportspersons?

We are not against drug tests. They can test us every single day, before or after a match, before or after a net session, we don’t mind that. We would love to have a drug-free sport. But is this the only way? asks Harbhajan Singh.-AP

“We are not against drug tests. They can test us every single day, before or after a match, before or after a net session, we don’t mind that. We would love to have a drug-free sport. But is this the only way?” Harbhajan Singh, who is in the International Registered Testing Pool (IRTP), was quoted as saying.

The ICC rules stipulate that players in the IRTP should provide their ‘whereabouts’ for a whole year, keeping a one-hour slot everyday through the year at a designated place for possible out-of-competition testing. The ICC has stated that its testing would be reasonable, suggesting that most of it will come in between FTP events. Missed tests can lead to disciplinary action.

Not many international sportspersons are comfortable with the new ‘whereabouts’ rules. Apart from the one-hour rule, athletes are also expected to provide addresses of their home, office, training venues etc for routine out-of-competition testing. The world knows and WADA knows that much of doping takes place when athletes take a break, not when they are into competition. Out-of-competition testing thus becomes a major weapon in the fight against doping.

The International Football Federation (FIFA) has spoken against the rules and suggested to WADA that team sports should have a different set of regulations by which teams could file their ‘whereabouts’ rather than players filing individual forms. FIFA has received some concessions regarding its IRTP, though WADA officials insist that no one has been given any kind of exemption. Rules do provide for federations to determine the size and scope of their IRTPs.

‘Whereabouts’ rules have been in place in the statutes of many international federations even before they were incorporated in the Code in 2003. The 2009 Code actually makes life easier for athletes since they would not be monitored on a round-the-clock basis but can get away by giving a one-hour slot. The flexibility is in being able to alter the ‘whereabouts’ information through e-mail and text messages. For someone with a laptop and/or a mobile phone this would be “no big deal”, as Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra keeps reminding us.

The large majority of the athletes have coped with the intrusion of their privacy. In any case, when you have to strip waist down before a Dope Control Officer while providing a urine sample — an official of the same gender as the athlete would be in the enclosure where a sample collection is made — what sort of constitutional rights for privacy are you going to seek in respect of ‘whereabouts’ rules?

Athletes around the world do not subject themselves to this routine not because they are happy about it, but because they feel in order to catch the drug cheat they have to sacrifice part of their rights to privacy. And the number of ‘cheats’ are going up by the day.

“You are not going to be tested day in and day out,” says WADA Director General, David Howman.

The Indian players stated that they were game for dope tests, but would not agree to 'whereabouts' rules that, according to them, encroached on their privacy and could compromise the security of some of them.-K. PICHUMANI

“I think it’s no big deal to give them an hour a day if you honestly want to prove you are clean,” says Olympic champion swimmer Ryan Lotche despite missing two tests and being on the verge of a suspension. The American swimmer’s agent files that information now. That is permissible though the athletes are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the information they provide. They can keep updating that information.

The security apprehension expressed by the cricketers and endorsed by the Board is interesting. For cricketers whose whereabouts are known to the public, media and sponsors through nine to 10 months a year, if one went by Yuvraj Singh’s assessment of tours and playing days, and whose movements are known to a variety of individuals including advertisement and event management agencies, sponsors and mediapersons while they are not playing but attending promotional activities and signing up sponsorship deals, the anxiety to protect themselves only on the dope-front is not understandable. After all, they are not surrounded by Kalashnikov-wielding commandos while on tours.

It is easy to say cricket is not like weightlifting, athletics or cycling and it does not require the kind of drugs that are used so widely in many other sports. But then, cricket cannot have a different set of rules if it happens to be under the WADA umbrella. The ICC should have realised this well before it amended its rules and accepted the revised Code in December 2008. And the Indian Board should have realised what the ICC was getting into rather than now claim that it did not know about the ‘whereabouts’ provisions. Even if it did, it could only have voiced a protest or else, if it had the backing, forced the ICC to part ways with the WADA.

The Board can do that even now and it will once again show how ineffective and toothless the ICC has been or how irrelevant it has looked through recent years when the BCCI flexed its financial muscle to bring the ICC around to its viewpoint rather than the other way round. If it really feels that this is a provision cricketers can well do without —there is support for the Indian cricketers from players from other Test-playing countries also — the ICC should withdraw its approval to the Code even if it means parting ways with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and all multi-discipline games.

The Code is an unyielding document that was revised not just by a handful of WADA officials, as is often made out, but after consultations with all stakeholders including governments over two years. Governments are now part and parcel of WADA, and the UNESCO Convention against doping in sports has given the much-needed legal sanctity to the Code apart from binding signatories to the implementation of the Code. The worst that WADA can do is to go back to pre-2009 or else give a few concessions to team sports. Either way there will be no escape for cricketers from submitting ‘whereabouts’ information.