Criminalising doping could paper over deeper problems for India

The point to ponder is whether India, where athletes primarily come from humble backgrounds and awareness about anti-doping issues is far from being satisfactory, is ready for such a law.

Sending guilty sportspersons to jail may be a premature step towards solution to India’s doping problems.   -  AP

That India is positioned third - for the third consecutive time - in the dubious list of countries with anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) record for 2015, and that the government is mulling over bringing a law to criminalise doping, have directed the focus on the efficiency of the country’s anti-doping system.

Like many other countries, the government is trying to fulfill an obligation to fall in line with the International Convention against Doping in Sports passed by UNESCO in October, 2005. But the point to ponder is whether our country, where athletes primarily come from humble backgrounds and awareness about anti-doping issues is far from being satisfactory, is ready for such a law.

The other important question is whether our anti-doping mechanism matches best standards being practised around the world.

Some sports administrators, who are fed up of the embarrassing number of dope positive results, may favour sending the guilty to jail but without adequate expertise to handle such issues it may turn out to be a premature and harsh step.

“There are too many loopholes in our system. We have a National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) consisting of six people. They have not been able to educate (the athletes properly). They are not taking any action against any coach or federation (for spreading doping). You cannot just keep punishing the athlete. You have that criminal system when you have a proper system in place,” said noted lawyer Vidushpat Singhania, who has worked as a counsel for several athletes charged with doping.

Even though the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which functions under the direct supervision of the Union Sports Ministry despite being an autonomous body, has achieved decent success by testing a large number of athletes and penalising a good chunk of them, the six-man organisation catering to several thousand athletes across the country has not been able to function in a dynamic manner.

Following the implementation of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, the National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) were expected to take up the task of investigation and intelligence gathering. NADA had been toying with the idea of roping in investigators and collecting information on drug supply chains for the last two years but is yet to achieve any significant result.

“We don’t have any investigation. In America, they did a proper investigation of Lance Armstrong and of Balco. Their police are doing investigation and doing a proper job. Here, we don’t have any idea,” said Singhania.

Possible chaos

In such a scenario, if the law to criminalise doping offences is implemented in the near future, then there may be a chaotic situation over who will handle such cases. On the other hand, the selection of NADA disciplinary panel members has been an issue. The fact that there have been instances of panels reaching bizarre interpretations of the code and its provisions should serve as good indicators of the state of affairs.

Even though the WADA Code empowers disciplinary panels to sanction coaches and support staff, no support personnel has been sanctioned in our country so far by the disciplinary panel though they may have been punished by the federations or the ministry in the past.

The lack of enough awareness about drugs and supplements is another area of concern. “There is no system of supplement testing, No system to label drugs or supplements. We have a system of ayurveda and other medicines where we don’t know what is happening. You have a proper system in place and then you prosecute an athlete for a crime. Just to borrowing (an idea) and punishing an athlete will finish sports in the country. It is a good initiative if everything else is put in place,” said Singhania.