Indian Athletics Devastated By Doping
The Indian athletics has been shaken to the core with eight of its top performers failing the dope test. The athletic scene which promised so much and was looking up has suddenly been reduced to shambles with everybody involved with the sports scurrying for cover as the country’s reputation in the international sports arena took a hard knock.
When legendary British runner Sebastian Coe hailed Indian 4×400 m women relay team’s historic victory in the last year’s Delhi Commonwealth Games saying that win could change the direction of track and field in this country, little he would have realised that in just over eight months, that “golden quartet” would become an object of ridicule and shame.
Three of that quartet of golden girls—Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini—who flunked dope tests were also in that gold medal winning squad that went on to win the Asian Games title also a month later. Jauna Murmu, another runner in the dope net was part of the team in the preliminary round in CWG.
It all started with Mandeep Kaur and Juana Murmu but soon four more were caught which included Mandeep’s relay team-mate, Sini Jose. Juana’s was tested positive by NADA having earlier failed two tests conducted by the World Anti–Doping Agency (WADA). Her case looks indefensible. Others who flunked the tests were 400 m runner Tiana Mary Thomas, Shot-putter Sonia and long jumper Harikrishna.
However, Indian athletics suffered yet another body blow when golden girl Ashwini Akkunji, along with 400 m runner Priyanka Panwar failed tests hours before their departure for Japan for the Asian Championships. Their dope tests were conducted on June 27 by National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) at NIS Patiala.
Ashwini, and Panwar were getting ready to leave for Kobe along with 35 other athletes to represent the country in the Asian event but not only were they allowed to go but also were slapped with a temporary ban by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI)
Both Akkunji and Priyanka tested positive for metabolites of methandienone, which were found in the samples of other CWG and Asian Games gold-winning relay quartet members Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose, as well another quarter miler Jauna Murmu. Another quarter miler Tiana Mary Thomas had tested positive for anabolic steroid epimethandiol.
Mandeep and Sini had returned positive for the anabolic substances in the tests conducted by IAAF on May 25 and by NADA during the National Inter-state Meet in Bangalore this month respectively. Only Manjeet Kaur (the fourth member of the relay team) has remained out of the dope net so far.
The doping scandal involving leading athletes will definitely affect India’s preparations for the London Olympics, with their women relay team virtually destroyed.
The experts and cynics have already started reading meaning into the whole sordid episode. According to them the five tainted 400 m runners were training under Ukrainian coach Yuri Ogorodnik and these “positive” results come after his return to take charge of the elite athletes training in Patiala for the next year’s Olympic Games.
It is not for the first time that Athletes in the country have failed the drug test, but this is perhaps the first time that so many top stars have tested positive. Till some time ago, it was the dope tainted weightlifters who were scorned for bringing a bad name to the sport but now the athletes have hit the ‘notorious zone’ big time bringing forth all sorts of conspiracy theories.
Way back in 2002 at the Busan Asiad Sunita Rani had tested positive, three years later in 2005, Neelam Jaswant Singh failed the test at the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki. About the weightlifters less said the better as number of them had tested positive at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth and the 2004 Olympic Games.
The most shameful documented story about the rampant doping in the country’s athletic scene goes back to 2006 when a large number of Indian athletes virtually ran away from Potchefstroom, South Africa, when a WADA-authorised went there on a surprise inspection.
TIME FOR TOUGH ACTION AGAINST THE GUILTY—Vijay Kumar Malhotra, IOA Acting President
Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Acting President Vijay Kumar Malhotra is very upset and angry and he has every reason to be. There seems nothing going right with Indian sports nowadays. Prof Malhotra does not hide his disgust over the dope scandal in which top athletes of the country are involved and while he is not holding any brief for the tainted sportspersons, he holds the coaches and other SAI officials equally responsible for this mess.
“It is no small matter, Country’s reputation has been tarnished in the international sports arena,” he says adding: “While the sports ministry’s single point agenda is to take over the sports federations, it can not make its own agency Sports Authority of India (SAI) accountable.”
“I demand judicial probe into this whole sordid episode. Once again we have to hang our heads in shame because of some greedy and incompetent coaches and officials” he says adding that the IOA will not spare any guilty persons involved in this disgraceful activity but before that it will like to know the full facts..
“IOA has a zero tolerance policy on this issue. We want sports to be drug free, India is a party to the International Charter on this issue and we have certain obligations”.
He also asked the concerned federations to take the exemplary action against the persons who have dented the country’s reputation.
“They ran off down the street,” the chairman of Athletics South Africa’s Anti-doping Commission, Chris Hattingh had told The Times, Johannesburg, about the Indian athletes fleeing when a team from the SA Institute of Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) came calling. “One even left his shoes behind,” Mr Hattingh was quoted as saying.
Thus, every such sordid episode made news and sports administrators mouthed strong words and talked of much (ab)used term ‘zero tolerance’ but soon forgot all about that. However, this time situation is different, none of the sports persons caught earlier had received so much of adulation as the women’s 4×400 m relay team.
The packed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium had given a standing ovation to the golden quartet on the last day of the Commonwealth Games, a scene usually seen in the cricket stadiums and that vast mass of sports fans are surely feeling let down.
Like Sunita and Neelam this time also the tainted runners refuse to accept the drug test result saying they are innocent. Mandeep Kaur, vehemently denied taking any steroids knowingly: “I am in the International Registered Testing Pool of the WADA after the Asian Games and I am not a mad person that I would take steroids to enhance performance.”
“Steroids remain inside the body for three months and how can any athlete who is in the international testing pool take drugs,” she said.
WILL SIX-POINT GUIDELINES CURB THE DOPING MENACE?
Under fire Sports Ministry has issued six-point directions in a desperate bid to curb the menace of doping. Sports minister Ajay Maken who sacked all the foreign coaches attached with tainted athletes feels that while every doping incident involves personal disgrace, banning and even threats of medals getting withdrawn from the accused athletes; the role of supporting coaches, doctors, officials and others need to be inquired, ascertained and suitably disposed. Accordingly, the Government/SAI should:
■ Withdraw/relieve the foreign coaches attached to these athletes with immediate effect.
■ Seek a report from Sports Authority of India (SAI) about any vigilance lapses and availability of such drugs/dope on NIS, Patiala premises. DG, SAI should seek and submit this report within three days.
■ Make immediate provisions for changing/rotating Doping officers frequently.
■ Seek a report from the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) regarding the issue.
■ Examine provisions for increasing the strength of Doctors at NIS, Patiala to at least three, including one Lady Doctor.
■ An inquiry headed by a Retd High Court Judge or Chairman, Disciplinary Hearing Panel of NADA be constituted to look into and establish the reasons leading up to such state of affairs, its effect, prevalence and modus operandi. The inquiry may also suggest concrete measures to ensure that such events/issues do not emerge in future.
She suspected that the banned substances were present in the food supplements and vitamins that she had taken from outside the NIS Patiala where they had been training.
“I suspect the food supplements and vitamins we took could have created the problems. We don’t have a doctor and we don’t know which drug can actually create problems. We ourselves can’t become doctors, “We bought the supplements and vitamins by ourselves and I want them to be tested whether they contain steroids,” she added. Same logic was offered by other tainted runners, in their defence.
The ‘supplements theory’ is the best defence sportspersons come up with after failing the tests. But so far no body has been put under scanner or being caught for recommending or supplying this “nutritional ‘supplements to the athletes. However, if supplements are tested as demanded by some officials and coaches, and stanozolol and methanidenone are found in them, then what will be the athletes answer?
Lending support to Dr Chandran’s argument Milkha Singh opined that no athlete can take drugs without the knowledge of coaches and officials. “The coaches and the federation officials are fully responsible, they know about it,” said the 75-year-old sprinting legend.
Amidst this outrage, there are former players and experts who feel that only sportspersons should not be singled out for punishment. They are of the view that coaches have to be made responsible and accountable for the anti-doping rule violations. Former sprint queen PT Usha was more forthcoming: “An impression has been created that only foreign coaches can groom international medal-winning athletes. Now they have to be made accountable.”
Dr Chandran was harsher on “so called foreign coaches”. He said: “For last two decades Indian athletes have been coached mostly by coaches and support personnel from the erstwhile USSR, especially from Ukraine and Belarus. They came masqueraded as coaches, recovery experts, doctors and masseurs. They were given a free hand to train the athletes. In the early nineties, there was one doctor, Dr ‘B’, who followed the athletes everywhere with syringes loaded with Russian made injections.” Without mentioning his real name, Dr Chandran said that he was the trend setter.
It has become a matter of routine for athletes to blame the food supplements when they are caught doping. Mandeep is found positive for a cocktail of three anabolic steroids and Jauna for two of them. Anabolic steroids are prescription drugs and trafficking of these drugs is a major criminal offence. It is a national concern and it is a fit case for police enquiry, rather than limiting it to a doping offence.
Dr Chandran says: “Top class athletes are well aware of doping menace in sports. They knowingly and wilfully follow the training methodology advocated by the coaches and recovery experts who were thrust on them by the authorities, who run sports in the country. If these athletes are culpable of doping offence, so are their coaches, support staff and the sports administrators.”
By Harpal Singh Bedi