Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The ‘dirty race’ to be at the top

It was wrestler Narsingh Yadav on Sunday, shot putter Inderjeet Singh today and it won’t be surprising someone else is caught tomorrow or day after in NADA’s anti-doping tests done prior to August Rio Olympics to avoid international embarrassments for the country.

While the accused sportspersons are crying ‘conspiracy’ and that their samples have been ‘tempered with’ to ‘sabotage’ their chances but the fact is in India, as is elsewhere; doping or substance abuse to enhance sporting performance by some sportsperson is an open secret. But what is surprising is that globally we rank 3rd just behind Russian Federation and Italy in a 2014 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report on ADRV (Anti-Doping Rule Violation). 

With 96 positive cases from India in 2014, the statistics is incriminating and calls for an immediate attention of Indian sports authorities. Worst, the findings say Indian violators have only increased compared to 2013 figures of 91 athletes caught in the ADRV.

With 30 violations, track and field event tops the WADA chart followed by powerlifting (23) and weightlifting (22). 3 cases each were reported from basketball, taekwondo, wrestling and wushu.

So, why do sportsperson cheat? There is no unanimity in opinions or analysis that explains one real reason behind athletes taking to dope to win. And it’s not just amateurs, how can we explain the behavior of professional athletes? If anti-doping agencies are catching the big names, why do athletes continue to dope?

To quote Dick Pound, a longstanding IOC member and former World Anti-Doping Agency chairman there are five main reasons why athletes resort to performance-enhancing drugs. Talking to CNN in November 2012, he had said that "there are reasons but then there are also excuses."
  1. "A desire to win at all costs -- even if that means lying.
  2.  For financial reasons -- with professionals trying to extend a career. 
  3. National pressures -- as exemplified by the old East German system.
  4. Individual pressure from coaches -- who get paid better if they coach winners, and that can apply for administrations too.
  5. Finally, they dope because they believe they will not get caught -- they believe they are invincible."
The fact and a sad truth is that while athletes have been caught and punished, many – some say most-- do successfully beat the drug testers.

Coming to the Indian context, truth is that many of us unknowingly consume drugs that we hardly know, what impact it will have on us. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics has made many of us immune to this ‘wonder drug’. Many of the daily used drugs too have elements that are banned in the sports. Caffeine, for example, was fine for athletes to use until 1962. Then it was banned by the International Olympic Committee, and it suddenly became an illegal. Then, in 1972, the ban was lifted, and caffeine was suddenly just something you got with your coffee or soda. It was re-banned in 1984. Narsingh Yadav and Inderjeet Singh’s trouble may have to do with this ignorance on what is ok and what is a strict no no. Or medication laced with substances banned in sports.

Till the investigators reach a final conclusion, like most sports fans, I don't want to believe that any of these stellar athletes are guilty, and of course, each individual is innocent until proven otherwise.

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