“I lied because you wouldn’t like me if you knew I was cheating, and you wouldn’t have let me keep winning. I love to win, and you loved it when I won,” said the winner of the Tour de France for seven consecutive times, Lance Armstrong, while admitting of doping. From the Incas chewing coca leaves to ancient Olympians chomping opium, humans have used drugs to enhance performance for millennia.
Sport is a profession where “fairness” matters above most other factors. The menace of doping continues unabated in Indian sports, and the latest results are alarming. Be it the National Institute of Sports (NIS), the Asian Games at Busan in South Korea, the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, till now mired in controversies over financial dealings, has been hit by a series of doping scandals. It is a matter of great dismay that a large number of athletes from the host nation returned ‘positive’ tests on the eve of a major multi-discipline games. India is already on the watch list of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and other world bodies over its high number of doping violations. India was at the top with the most positive dope results in a given period. Earlier, doping was synonymous with fewer disciplines, but the menace seems to have spread to athletics and other sports as well.
There is a view that the establishment unofficially providing assistance to athletes, much like it was done before and many believe it’s still being done. Those who have tested positive are not cheats; they are our national pride. It is difficult to place all the blame for doping on sportspersons. Coaches, doctors and other sports administrators seem to be aware of the practice but often choose to turn a blind eye. This reflects the failure of our sports system in many ways. Instead, we should help our athletes, most of who come from poor backgrounds and lack in education. In India, we only do policing; there’s no other programme to provide athletes specialised assistance. Some argue that in sports that require physical superiority, Indians, largely due to their weak natural build, cannot match their rivals on their own. Indian sports desperately need professionals, especially in sports medicine, not ad-hoc administrators to see Indian athletes reach the top of the podium.
The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has found “systematic failures” in drug testing and accused federations of bribing officials to cover up positive results. Though NADA accepted the World Anti Doping Code and framed the Anti Doping Rules (ADR) of NADA in conformity with the WADA’s code, and its credibility is still at stake. The government is planning to establish an integrated National Institute of Sports Sciences to produce qualified sports medicine practitioners and also to tackle the menace of doping. The leading sports federation, Sports Authority of India (SAI) and its laboratory have been in existence since 1988, but could not receive accreditation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It has been argued that testing should not be merely done immediately prior to international competitions and that, step to discourage drug use among athletes must be taken earlier, but unfortunately, the SAI has only adopted this policy otherwise. Another view is that tightening civil laws would go a long way in ensuring that anabolic steroids are not easily available over the counter. Doctors who prescribe such harmful drugs should be penalised. There is also lack of funds to the principal anti-doping organs like WADA and NADA. India needs to do research and manufacture food supplements here. Most of the food supplements the Indian athletes are using come from abroad. So, we don’t know whether they are genuine or not. Another way to check doping at the highest level is by what WADA came up with in response to stop doping once and for all: an athlete biological passport. And unlike USA our athletes don’t have access to a comprehensive list of banned substance or professional help if they need to seek.
The need of the hour is transparency. It is time the officialdom must function within the rules and in the true spirit of sports. It’s essential to train not only to the sports person, but also the other stakeholders like the coaches, team doctors and administrators, etc. And most importantly, the government has to take-up the issue in a comprehensive manner and find a permanent solution to doping.