The Doping Scandal and the State of Indian Sports
Indian sports have been hitting the headlines for all wrong reasons for the past two years. The shame of the CWG and IPL scams were, for some time, overshadowed by the euphoria over the ICC cricket World Cup triumph. But now the cancer that affects Indian sports has surfaced with a new malignancy.
Eight athletes, including four medal winners of the Guangzhou Asian games and Delhi CWG and India’s brightest female track stars, Ashwini Akkunji, Sini Jose and Mandeep Kaur, failed a dope test. Traces of a banned anabolic steroid were found in their urine.
It has been revealed that the Sports Authority of India (SAI), in their affidavit dated August 29, 2001 to the Delhi High Court, included a list of 257 Indian athletes who failed dope tests conducted by National Anti Doping Association (NADA). NADA is an autonomous body working under World Anti Doping Association (WADA). Thanks to strings pulled at the “right” moment, around 250 of these dope-tainted athletes, including some of the most respected names in the Indian sports, were protected and went unscathed. This cover up happened during the tenure of Suresh Kalmadi as head of the Athletics Federation of India, who is now in jail on charges of the CWG scam.
Following the removal of a few scapegoats like Ukrainian coach Yuri Ogrodnik, the latest doping scandal too is all set to be buried. Dr Sanjib Nandi, a suspended doctor of the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala who blew the whistle on the systemic doping of athletes, was assaulted by private security guards when he tried to enter the Institute to meet retired Justice Mukul Mudgal who is probing the doping scandal. The NIS guards claimed they had orders from senior Sports Authority of India (SAI) officials to bar his entry.
When contacted, Dr Nandi, about to lodge an FIR with the local police station, said, “It’s a clear signal that my opinion shall not be heard in the probe. I don’t know who is calling the shots!”
Truly no-one yet knows the person or group which is behind the curtains. Suresh Kalmadi, the ex-chairperson of Indian Olympic Association and Chief of CWG OC, is not likely to have acted alone in the CWG scam. Three sports ministers of the UPA regime recommended Kalmadi’s expulsion earlier. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remained silent.
Mamata Banerjee, Mukul Wasnik, Uma Bharti, Sushil Dhindsa, Sunil Dutt, Mani Shankar Aiyer, Ms Gill, Ajay Maken. This is a list of “unfortunate” Sports and Youth Development Ministers of the central government in the last 15 years. Interestingly, none of them completed a full term in office! The fund allocated for Sports and Youth Development is below 0.5 percent of the annual budget, further revealing the government’s negligence.
Things worsened as Indian sports took a neo-liberal turn. The remote control of sports and youth affair went into the hands of the multinational giants and their Indian collaborators. In the backdrop of the economic interests and the political nexus operating sports worldwide, India’s latest dope scandal is a mere tip of the iceberg.
The National Sports Policy 2001 promises “infrastructural development” on a comprehensive scale in rural and urban India, but field reports show that the implementation for the last 10 years have made a mockery of those promises – of “protection” of existing play fields, “steps to evolve low cost functional and environment friendly designs”, “provision of intensive training to talented sports persons” etc. Moreover, there is no national code against doping!
Unlike in the USA, Canada or Europe, athletics in our country is not a high value sports like corporate cricket or tennis. The majority of the athletes come from the interior districts with very poor infrastructural facilities. The only opportunity for any young athlete is to get spotted in the state meet and be chosen for some national development programme. The athletes groomed by local coaches now entirely become dependent on the project directors and the national level coaches.
Silver medalist of Doha Asian Games Soma Biswas pointed out, “Athletes coming from the rural level are not educated enough and depend entirely upon the coaches and instructors about these issues like banned medicines. Blaming them won’t be the right approach to resolve this problem. Coaches like Nambiar who coached PT Usha and Kuntal Roy who coached me cautioned us about doping and international Olympic Associations list of banned drugs. These guys nurtured and spotted athletes out of their passion, they were not appointed or paid by the government. The central government has done nothing to develop the infrastructure of athletics.”
Hosting CWG, like any other international sporting events in the globalized present is about “show-casing” the so called “model of development” and implementing certain cosmetic projects ruthlessly and has got very little to do about youth development or sports-person’s requirements from the grass root level.
London Olympics’12 is supposed to be the capitalist world’s answer to Bejing’08, where China had dazzled with her staggering medal tally, and to the sound organization of the Guangzhou Asian Games. But for a country like India or South Africa, marred by riots, racism poverty and underdevelopment, how can a single event heal the prolonged wounds? “The World Cup has fooled us; so much money, enormous stadia; if they were seeking welfare of sports and people, they could have built school fields,” lamented Denis Brutus in an interview before his death ahead of FIFA World Cup’10.
Following in the footsteps of the FIFA World Cup, the Delhi CWG became a formidable excuse to impose developmental projects that spell disastrous consequences for those most vulnerable. And most of athletes, swimmers, footballers and weight lifters come from these most vulnerable strata of the society.
But how to enhance the medal tally and project some achievers, while thwarting all the processes of developing promising young sportspersons? Let’s hear it from a sports medicine expert who was involved in several pre-conditioning projects: “Doping can be done in several ways. It’s not only about steroids. Taking advantage of the ignorance of the athletes, the officials and the physicians can prescribe them certain medicines, not only for any injury but even for a cold. The athletes also depend financially on the associations for these costly medicines. The officials don’t involve NADA. Often the athletes are misguided by the coaches who convince that the drugs will enhance their show but not affect the dope test! In the process they jeopardize not only the athletes’ careers but the athletics of our country. The current scandal has dented our hopes for the next Olympics.” Thus remains the tragic untold story of Akkunji, Kaur and so many other promising youngsters!
A Gold medalist athlete of the Doha Asian Games and silver medal winner in the Melbourne Commonwealth games who hails from Purulia district, West Bengal, gave a new twist to the tale, “The situation is worse for female athletes. Sexual harassment in Indian women’s hockey was exposed recently. State-level officials of athletics do the same with young girls coming from districts, who depend on them to be allowed to perform in the state meets or be spotted for a developed training camp. A sexual harassment cell is an immediate necessity. Moreover the fields we practice in are being grabbed for the real estate projects?”
The fields of urban and rural India are being grabbed by land sharks for real estate or shopping mall projects. When sports are confined to a few sports complexes, common children are barred from practicing the game spontaneously. Worldwide, performance sports like athletics, swimming, soccer, even cricket, tennis or baseball and other sports are excelled by the men and women coming from the working class and peasantry, who are used to physical labour in their childhood. Archers and athletes also emerge from the tribal belts. World record holder, long distance runner Keninisia Bekele of Ethiopia states, “We evolved out of physical labour and scientific practice sessions. This idea of doping came from the West!”
When crony capitalism controls sports, athletics suffer, swimming suffers, soccer suffers, hockey suffers, and the entire sporting culture is being manipulated. What gains momentum is corporate plunder as the corporate giants like Nike, Puma, Reebok, Adidas drain a huge surplus from the third world and invest in Formula One Racing, golf, baseball, American basketball and limited-over cricket tournaments! Airtel India invests on English Premier League which is once again most sought after in Indian cities and suburbs, leaving our local league and players to deal with diminishing resources.
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s annual revenue reach an astronomical height of 32.7 billion $, a bulk of which come from the third world. The tragic demise of artistic Caribbean cricket due to promotion of American basketball and baseball by Rupert’s channels in the sun-drenched islands is a typical example of this cultural invasion.
Huge black money is being poured in IPL. The FIFA Chief is accused of mismanagement of millions of euros and promoting match-fixing, yet manages to hold on his chair. The corporate betting syndicate has reduced the glorious game of uncertainty to pre-determined soap-opera. Compradors like Dalmiya, Sharad Pawar or Vijay Mallya dominate the sporting arena. With the increasing corporate control over sport, we can expect more doping scandals and big scams, and even greater neglect of the sporting needs of promising youngsters from poor backgrounds. Indian sport will be the loser.