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Annus horribilis on track for Indians

Three words can sum up Indian athletics in 2006: sex (read failed gender verification), sleaze and shame, writes Indraneel Das.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 23:31 IST

Three words can sum up Indian athletics in 2006: sex (read failed gender verification), sleaze and shame. It was another sordid saga of cheating and manipulation that kept surfacing every now and then.

The year was replete with stories of runaway athletes, chasing World Anti-Doping Agency and International Amateur Athletics Federation anti-doping marshals, cover-ups and, last but not the least, a failed gender test. Off the field, Indians were just off the tracks, literally.

Even before the year’s first mega multi-discipline event in Melbourne (Commonwealth Games), there were tales of athletes going missing from training camps in Patiala and even abroad (Indians had to cut short their training programme in South Africa under mysterious circumstances).

For the latter, AFI had an explanation: “We thought they had a good training session and came back a day or two early.” The question is, in this era of scientific training, can training experts wind up sessions even a day ahead? As for the former, when around 12 people went missing, AFI said: “We conducted an enquiry and imposed sanctions.”

There have been instances when the AFI went mum and never revealed the penalties imposed. Remember last year’s defaulters’ list when around nine athletes returned positive tests — which even the AFI agreed with — during various tests conducted by the Dope Control Centre in Delhi. “One was exonerated after a formal hearing,” explained AFI. About the eight others? Nothing was revealed.

This year will perhaps be remembered for AFI’s greatest cover-up. Discus thrower Seema Antil, who allegedly returned a positive test, was flown back from Muscat where she was training for the Asiad. The AFI was quick to flash an explanation: “Her father is not well.”

Though the doping allegation held water, with the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India sources confirming it, somehow the AFI managed to get another test done in Bangkok which returned negative. The AFI statement, that exonerated the national record holder, never stated whether it was a B sample or another sample taken on a later date. They did not deny the earlier positive test or give clarifications.

“What can we do?” was a senior Sports Ministry official’s reaction on the Antil affair. “We have informed the people concerned and if they have exonerated her, we can’t do much,” he said. But the best part was the ending — Antil did not travel to Doha.

And as the athletes started winding up the long season, the news of Santhi Soundarajan’s failed gender verification test in Doha created a furore. The worst part was that the SAI’s Bangalore centre, where she was training for the Games, wanted to perform the same test before departure.

According to a senior SAI official, “Everything was arranged for the test. But despite our repeated requests, the coaches in charge of the camp did not allow it to happen.”