A dope test, irrespective of its eventual outcome, inevitably spells trouble for sportspersons playing at any level. I remember feeling a bit edgy when the first time anti-doping officers were to visit a club I was playing for in Holland. All kinds of questions started doing the rounds --- Will they test everyone? Is it okay if I had alcohol last night?
Nobody really knew what the procedure of a drug test was and what the banned substances were. That was the first time I heard about this mandatory test and its damaging repercussions. I was 23 then, having played a few seasons of first-class cricket in India. But, never had any authority or coach cared to share the importance of a dope test with us.
While the surprise visit did raise alarm bells with regards to both the drug menace and my lack of knowledge on the issue, it was forgotten the moment I landed in India. Since cricket in Holland, like England and Australia, is funded by the government, it fell under the purview of WADA. But, that wasn't the case in India. Hence, due to complete apathy, it wasn't considered important enough to educate our cricket clan. So ignorant were we on the subject that we actually believed that alcohol was a banned substance, and that teetotallers had nothing to worry about.
No team doctors
These misconceptions were quashed when I played for India in 2003. But once again the session - which revolved around the right way of testing, players' rights during the test and above all informing or asking the physiotherapist before taking any medicine - was conducted by the team physiotherapist and not by a team of doctors. Even though the management did well to organise a session, it did little by way of providing an all-inclusive education on doping. All it conveyed was a warning.
While I played for India, it was easy to consult the team physiotherapist every time I needed medication, but it became impossible to know if I was popping the right pills for common cold and pain once I got out of the loop.
Even though cricket is skill-specific and does not require a drug to enhance performance, at least not in batting, a few rare cases in the past, especially from Pakistan, did send shock waves.
These guys have been serial offenders, and hence their case cannot be pardoned on the basis of ignorance.
The BCCI has started a programme to address the issue by putting together a team of doctors and experts who visit cricket associations and address cricketers. They not only conduct sessions but also give written information on the list of banned drugs.
The reason an athlete craves for top honours is to find an identity, become a name to reckon with, but if he loses that very identity in the bargain, to a shameful controversy, chances are he might think twice before risking it.
It's this wisdom, if carefully imparted, which would bring a change in the present scenario.