In the year 2012, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) tested 4,168 samples and reported 138 positive cases at 3.3 per cent. Last year, NADA tested 4,004 samples and came up with 225 positive cases at 5.6 per cent. It was an increase of three per cent from 2018.
Surprisingly, unnoticed and undebated by the media, NADA vaulted to the top of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) testing charts for 2019, a “first” since the Indian agency’s inception in 2009.
Since 2012, when WADA started publishing detailed testing figures by different anti-doping authorities, this is the first time NADA crossed 200 positive cases for a year. The worst so far was 138 in 2012.
WADA publishes collated information every year of testing figures collected from across the world, from National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs), international federations, multi-discipline games organisers, Paralympic sports and non-Olympic sports organisations. The report contains testing information including types of tests done by laboratories provided by NADOs and testing figures from international federations, laboratories and other agencies involved in anti-doping.
Reporting an adverse analytical finding (AAF) does not mean an anti-doping charge has been proved or the athlete sanctioned. Once a laboratory detects an AAF unless there is a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) granted to the athlete, it is reported to the concerned authority and there is a case to answer as far as the athlete is concerned.
Once the hearing process is gone through and an offence established, an appeal against a decision rejected and there is nothing more pending, it is declared as an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV). In the 2018 ADRV report, also published by WADA recently, India has filled in the fourth place, with 107 cases.
Read together, the two WADA reports are extremely damning for Indian sports even as it gets ready to surpass itself in the Tokyo Olympics next year (There is always the question mark about the Olympic Games happening in 2021 amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but we will have to leave it to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese Government to take a final decision in this matter).
Since 2013, India has occupied the seventh place or worse in the WADA ADRV reports including third in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Now, with the 2019 testing figures showing India clearly at No. 1 in the category by testing authority, there is a possibility the country could also top of the lists of ADRV for the first time when WADA publishes the 2019 report next year.
When an ADRV report is published, we get a list by nationalities, by AAF outcome and sports-wise break-up. Such a list would include the outcome of all cases disposed of by competent authorities, thus possibly increasing the number of cases for a particular country apart from that country’s own reported positive cases.
Say, for example, India has 225 positive cases reported for 2019. Some of them might have been reprieved, some others could still be in the hearing pipeline. Let us say 10 of these cases are exonerated, reducing the total to 215.
Then comes in the cases heard and sanctioned by international federations and any other authority. Let us assume, there are five such cases in which an ADRV had been established and athletes sanctioned. The total ADRVs will then swell to 220.
In countries like the US, where several foreign athletes could be based for training or studies or competitions, and who come under the jurisdiction of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), a final figure of ADRV from say a reported number of 205 positive cases would be difficult to guess. In India, such cases have not been reported if one can recall correctly.
It is not the AAF alone that would count in ADRVs but also non-analytical ADRVs, meaning those sanctioned for “whereabouts” failures, trafficking, evasion, refusal etc. A number of reprieves could also be possible. For example, the US which had 153 AAFs in 2018 ended up with only 43 ADRVs with 52 of them getting cleared for medical reasons.
In-competition testing at an international event should not be confused in this jurisdictional explanation. In such meets, dope-testing and resultant procedures are as per the rules of the international federation or organisation concerned. Authority to test could be delegated to a NADO, but invariably hearing procedures are handled by the international federation itself or a multi-discipline games authority like the IOC or the Commonwealth Games Federation (the International Testing Agency, an independent agency, has now been delegated the Olympics and pre-Olympic testing and results management task by the IOC).
The Indian NADA can take some consolation from the fact that it has managed to record such a large number of positive cases in one year. On the question of the widespread use of doping substances among Indian sportspersons, perhaps it could point out the 60 positive cases returned in bodybuilding from just 127 samples (47%) to argue that a perennially dope-driven sport had produced such large number of positives that the total numbers were bound to rise. In the coming years, bodybuilding is likely to be pushed to the background to keep the numbers down, if it has not happened already!
Powerlifting (19) and para powerlifting (4) accounted for another 23 cases in India last year. Yet, if one were to look deeper into the issues plaguing Indian sports, it would be apparent that Olympic sports alone contributed 134 of the 225 positive cases in 2019. The figure was 78 in 2018.
As in the past, athletics and weightlifting dominated the doping scene last year, too. After a brief respite in 2018, when it turned in only 14 positive cases, athletics this time gave 35 cases as compared to weightlifting’s 32 including the lone “positive” from a blood sample reported by NADA.
Both athletics and weightlifting have struggled to keep their reputations intact globally in recent years, with bribery charges to hush up doping cases exposing the limitations of the anti-doping drive led by WADA. The retests of the Beijing and London Olympics samples have exposed weightlifting thoroughly, while the Russian doping saga has shaken athletics as well as weightlifting.
In such a backdrop, doping in India in these two sports cannot be expected to lag despite the best of intentions. It is always encouraging to note the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president, Adille Suamriwalla, bringing in the “zero tolerance” theme in doping but the ground reality is different.
There is no room to “tolerate” a positive doping case in any sport. Due process is gone through by NADA and once the verdict is out, a federation is duty-bound to enforce it. A federation can help NADA by suggesting names for inclusion in its Registered Testing Pool (RTP) apart from pinpointing likely dopers who need to be tested regularly. They can also highlight the inadequacy of testing at major senior National competitions. NADA should not fight shy of testing Indian athletes at locations abroad. Testing them a month away from a major competition would be a waste. Already, Covid-19 has pushed NADA’s testing in 2020 by a few thousand samples. Swelling numbers in 2021 through departmental meets and minor junior competitions will not serve much purpose.
From only 756 samples in 2018 NADA managed to catch 14 competitors in athletics, while this time it netted 35 in the sport from 1,078 samples. It is interesting to note that NADA did 1,246 samples in athletics in 2014 with 29, highest tally so far, turning in positive reports. The highest number of samples in athletics was in 2015 when NADA tested 1,560 samples in the sport.
In the ADRVs report for 2018, weightlifting (22), athletics (16) and powerlifting (15) contributed the maximum number of the overall 107 sanctioned in India.
NADA’s 104 adverse findings resulted in 96 ADRVs. Three of them were let off because of medical reasons, one had no case to answer, three ended up in exoneration. One case is pending. Along with other cases, the total ADRV for India in 2018 became 107.
In global count for ADRVs, bodybuilding topped with 261 and was followed by cycling (221) and athletics (193). Surprisingly, weightlifting was only fifth (157) behind powerlifting (164).
NADA should urgently review and update its Registered Testing Pool. It has not been updated for more than a year. It is still primarily based on the 2018 performances and does not even include all Olympics-qualified athletes and those who are the most likely to make it.
Hopefully, NADA would not cut down on its sample numbers in the Olympic year to bring down “positive” numbers. With the National Dope-Testing Laboratory (NDTL) still under suspension, and with NADA often pointing out the expenses involved in testing abroad plus transportation costs and difficulties at these times of pandemic, it would be advisable for the Government to sanction additional funds for the agency in 2021. India has just contributed an additional grant of one million dollars to WADA. NADA’s requirement is dire if the country needs to shed its doping image. “Test, test, test” should be the theme to weed out the dopers. It may take time to educate athletes that in the long run there could only be serious damages even if in the short term, medals, promotions, national and incentive awards would be the norm.
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