Two years ago, Indian athletics hung its head in shame when eight athletes, including Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medal winners, were caught doping.
And in September last year, the latest figures available, India was on top of the world body IAAF’s list of doping shame with 34 suspended athletes, far ahead of second-placed Russia (22), the USA (6) and China (7).
Now, as news of some of the biggest names in international athletics failing dope tests jolt us, let’s take a look at how much things have changed in India since the dark days of mid-2011.
“After those Commonwealth and Asian Games stars were caught, there is clearly some fear among our athletes,” said P.T. Usha, one of India’s all-time greats. “But I wouldn’t say Indian athletics is clean now.
“We had shot putter Udaya Laxmi (the inter-State National champion from Andhra Pradesh who was withdrawn from the Indian team for the recent Asian Championship in Pune at the last minute) failing a dope test the other day.
“Our athletes must be checked during off-season. I don’t think there is off-season testing now, I’ve not been hearing about it. But of course, there is testing in competitions and athletes in the ‘registered testing pool’ are tested during off-season too,” said Usha, a respected coach now who has produced stars like Tintu Luka and Jessy Joseph.
“We don’t get big results in athletics all of a sudden, it comes gradually. So when we see a big jump in performance, it should be watched very closely,” she said.
Athletics Federation of India secretary C.K. Valson said it’s not easy for athletes to wriggle out if they are cheating.
“Now, I think our top-level athletes are very cautious, they know they can’t escape,” he said. “We are also giving all support to NADA, like the addresses of the first six athletes in our ranking. If you are within the first six, then you are surely in the eyes of NADA.”
But surely, international superstars like American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Asafa Powell must have been watched closely by the world anti-doping agency WADA for years. And they had managed to stay out of trouble.
“They are highly advanced there, we can’t think of such things in India. And you can’t get those medicines in India,” said Valson.
“But whatever is possible from our side, we are trying to bring it in, to stop the menace.”