METRO PLUS

Dope tests: A question of names

THE WORLD'S greatest leg-spinner, Shane Warne of Australia, was shown the door for using a banned drug substance on the eve of the 2003 World Cup. Mainly, because the Australian Medical Commission has the guts to expose arguably its most popular sportsperson and that too considering the grave risk of playing without its best strike bowler in that World Cup. That Australia won the Cup without even him is once again an assertion that the sport is greater than individuals.

The latest developments with the regard to the 32nd National Games where 22 athletes, of them 13 medallists, were found to be guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs may not have surprised many. It is not just the `import policy' of the State Government but the alleged drug abuse by some of the athletes from Andhra Pradesh that might haunt the top brass of sports administration for quite some time now. By their own confession, the top brass have revealed that two athletes, one boxer, a cyclist and a swimmer from the State tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs. The lure of money can be the single biggest factor for them to stoop so low. It may be recalled that Rs.3 lakhs, Rs.2 lakhs and Rs.1 lakh were announced for the gold, silver and bronze medallists who represented the State in the Hyderabad edition of the National Games.

The Andhra Pradesh Amateur Athletic Association was asked for an explanation by the Amateur Athletic Federation of India with regard to two of its athletes who reportedly tested positive during the tests conducted by the IOA in Delhi on some of the samples taken during the Games. The medical personnel during the Games made it a point to take the samples of all the medallists besides 500 random samples. That the APAAA secretary K.Ranga Rao did confess that the Federation had asked for a reply from the athletes under cloud is perhaps the tip of the iceberg which is most likely to further harm the image of the State which is already under fire for its `import' policy in hiring the cream of Indian sport to represent it in the National Games and pick medals. "If the Federation is satisfied with the reply, then the issue can be treated as closed. Otherwise, the issue of taking the `B' sample comes up. But it is a long-drawn out affair. Unless someone is proved guilty, we cannot name an athlete as an accused,'' Ranga Rao reasoned out.

It may not be out of place to mention here that some of the weightlifters from the State have even refused to take part in the Punjab National Games the moment they were told that doping tests would be conducted. They preferred to skip the competition to being caught, the senior coaches informed The Hindu. Interestingly, the State sports administrators also point to the plain fact that quite a few athletes from other States were found to be guilty of drug abuse during the Punjab Games (before the Hyderabad edition) and since the IOA drug testing centre has not been accredited to the International Olympic Committee, the issue was not pursued further. This was the explanation by a top official of the Indian Olympic Association.

The inevitable question crops up. Who is fooling whom? During the National Games, Suresh Kalmadi, president of IOA, went on record to state that reports of all the dope tests would be revealed within 24 hours. But, even after four months, only bits and pieces of information is being revealed. Why should the IOA think twice in naming the guilty? By not listing the accused athletes what sort of message are they conveying to others in Indian sport?

Meanwhile, L.V.Subrahmanyam, vice-chairman and managing director of SAAP, told The Hindu today that it was not the job of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh to prove who is guilty or not. "The normal procedure is for the IOA medical authorities to inform the respective National Federations about the athletes if they were proved to have tested positive. What we got was only the coded messages by which we cannot tell anything,'' he explained. It is also said that the SAAP has asked for a detailed list of those involved in this ugly episode.

Interestingly, the much-talked about felicitation function to present the huge cash incentives to all the medallists of Andhra Pradesh in the National Games, totalling to about Rs.5.20 crores, has been repeatedly postponed for some reason or the other. Is it because of this problem? "Certainly not. There were other reasons too. But, it is a fact that we have sought the list of the erring athletes to take necessary action,'' Subrahmanyam asserted.

What about other athletes from other disciplines? Badeti Venkatramaiah, secretary of AP Weightlifting Association, told The Hindu from Eluru that he didn't get any information from the National Federation on the latest developments. "There is no point in revealing the names now. For the simple reason that the athlete under question has every right to question the legitimacy of the decision in the court of law and even the competency of the drug testing procedure can also be under serious scrutiny,'' is his argument. His logic is simple. When the Punjab Games' list of athletes who took performance-enhancing drugs cannot be revealed on the pretext that the SAI Lab in Delhi is not accredited (its status didn't alter even now), how can the issue be treated differently now?

But, what is obvious is that the image of the State has been badly dented by these reports. It's time the authorities, who set new trends in organising the Games in such a prestigious manner, usher in a new chapter in dealing with this ugly episode or else serious doubts will continue to haunt and some even dare to question the methods and means used to reap such a huge haul of medals in the Games which pushed Andhra to the top place. If there is to be sympathy that a particular athlete's career would be at crossroads if he or she is exposed, then why conduct all these dope-control tests at all.

And, what about the role of coaches? If they stake claim for a gold-medal winning performance on a level field, they should be equally answerable if the trainee indulges in dubious methods. So, who will bell the cat?