Even as there is outrage in sports circles against the spate of positive tests being returned by international-level athletes, there is also broad unanimity among former athletes and administrators that coaches have to be made responsible and accountable for the anti-doping rule violations.
With six athletes being reported for adverse analytical findings during the past few days, four of them sure of places in the Indian team for the Asian championships till the other day, there is an expected clamour for action.
“No athlete can take drugs without the knowledge of coaches and officials,” said Milkha Singh on Friday.
“The coaches and the federation officials are fully responsible, they know about it,” said the 75-year-old sprinting legend, a former Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medallist who missed an Olympic bronze narrowly in Rome in 1960.
“The Sports Ministry should take strict action, because the coaches are basically hired by the Sports Authority of India. The coaches and officials who are involved in this should be punished,” said Milkha, speaking from Chandigarh.
“An impression has been created that only foreign coaches can groom international medal-winning athletes. Now they have to be made accountable,” said P. T. Usha, another of country's athletics greats.
Usha said the scourge of doping that had gripped the country in a big way since 1998, as reported in the media, had reached such levels that today coaches and athletes outside the National camp were wary of competition at the national level, knowing well the part drugs would play in such meets.
“The Government should take back the cash awards which were given to the athletes (offenders),” said Milkha. “Once the Government takes away the cash awards, nobody will take drugs,” he said.
“These girls brought name and fame for the country and to themselves at the Commonwealth and Asian Games but now they have brought shame to India,” said Milkha.
“Many young sprinters give up their careers half-way through since they feel frustrated while competing against doped athletes. They know they can't win. The country has lost quite a few talent through this kind of frustration,” said Usha.
Shifting the blame
“Everyone is shifting the blame; the athletes say coaches are responsible and the coaches say doctors. Previously also we have had complaints. They put a pardha (curtain) over it and it was forgotten or swept under the carpet,” said the Acting President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), Vijay Kumar Malhotra, on Friday.
“That's why we are asking the Government to institute a judicial enquiry,” said Mr. Malhotra.
In order to discourage doping, Mr. Malhotra also suggested that mandatory dope tests should be done at entry point into the National camps.
Mr. Malhotra said that doping had been happening in Indian sports for so many years. Weightlifting suffered because of it and crores were spent as fines. But nothing had been done to make people accountable.
“IOA wants a comprehensive inquiry to expose the nexus between the medicine (drug) suppliers, coaches, doctors (and) other officials along with involved sportspersons,” Mr. Malhotra said in a statement.
“For long Indian sports has suffered because of the emotional blackmail by the players and officials but no longer” he added.
He said it was shocking that the international agency had caught the ‘tainted athletes' first before the domestic agency (NADA) “swung into action”.
“We have taken cognizance of the happenings; there is no casual approach as far as doping is concerned,” said the Joint Secretary, Union Sports Ministry, Injeti Srinivas.
He said the fact that athletes were testing positive showed that the authorities were pro-actively engaged in attempting to eradicate doping in sports.
“We will increase the frequency of sampling in the Olympic camps,” said the Director-General of the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), Rahul Bhatnagar, when asked about NADA's strategy in the wake of the latest adverse reports.
He said the NADA would be writing to the employers of coaches to keep a tab on them and also to initiate action against them if they were found to be abetting doping.
Mr. Bhatnagar said that the rooms of coaches and athletes could be searched at the camps if the situation warranted. He said he would be approaching the Government to arrange a meeting with the federations to find out what they were doing on the anti-doping front.