In what has become a controversy for the ages, the Indian cricket team’s refusal to the International Cricket Council (ICC)-stipulated World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) drug-testing policies has become another unfortunate example of what the public perceives as arm-twisting by the world’s most powerful cricket body: the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
With the Ministry of Sports lending its support to Wada compliance, and with about 571 sports bodies agreeing to comply with a somewhat invasive regulation, it has put the BCCI on a slippery slope: until the ICC commits one way or the other. What’s getting lost in the entire episode is the stipulation that has triggered the debate. It’s unlikely that Wada will modify or alter its regulations.
Drug-testing in sports lends itself to inflamed reactions from athletes and morality-policing by the officials. Public opinion is varied and generally irrelevant. It is a direct conflict between the parties concerned and officiating would be inconsequential, unless matters get out of hand.
The BCCI’s proposed solution — for cricket to form and operate its independent doping laboratory and commission — is impractical and will put an end to cricket’s eligibility for any global sports forum. It’s prohibitively expensive to establish and operate an independent doping agency for cricket. Significant R&D is required, as is a global presence and support from authorities and law-makers.
Above all, it needs a reputation of uniformity and objectivity and it must provide an accurate indication of a player’s compliance with rules and laws that govern his/her sport. The ICC cannot create such an agency overnight.
The rule that’s launched a million debates — where a player must inform Wada of his/her whereabouts for at least an hour everyday for about three months in advance for the purposes of being randomly tested — would not withstand scrutiny from an invasion of privacy and constitutional rights standpoint, if it goes to the courts.
The timing and procedure that should have been followed would have entailed an official complaint by the BCCI to the ICC, which could have taken up the matter with Wada. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) followed that route and negotiated some exemptions. The BCCI doesn’t have any such luxury and has been thrust into an unwelcome spotlight.
It’s hard to pick sides in this tug-of-war. The Board and players shouldn’t be chastised for trying to invoke their rights. Unluckily, the protest comes at a time when the Nadals of the world have agreed to comply for a simple reason: most drug violations take place not during competitions, but during out-of-competition training.
There are many drugs that are untraceable within 24 hours of their consumption. Yet, if consumed over time, they help enhance performance to a great extent. The offending regulation minimises that risk by leaving the option to test open for any day of the year, randomly or systematically.
The lone battle that the BCCI is fighting doesn’t seem as if it will end on a positive note. Sports ministries of cricket-playing nations (including ours), committees of global events like the Olympics and the Wada make this an uphill climb of Malthusian proportions. The BCCI has ventured into deep volcanic waters. It’s in a sink or swim situation now. Let’s hope it’s not the Indian fans who have to suffer.
Desh Gaurav Sekhri is a sports attorney