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Dope delinquents

The lure of material success often goads athletes into consuming performance-enhancing drugs. But in some cases they don’t even know that they have erred. Indraneel Das writes. stimulants used in sports

india Updated: Sep 09, 2010 00:54 IST
Indraneel Das

There have been 19 positive cases in a week. Of the 19, eight were in the team for the Delhi Commonwealth Games. And of those 19, 12 tested positive for the same substance, methylhexaneamine, a stimulant that was later added to the prohibited substance list. It’s a substance that is not readily available in the Indian market. The experts say there is a pattern to it.

Temptation

Coming from a weak socio-economic background, the motive of sportspersons is simple — win medals, earn as much money as you can and lead a comfortable life thereafter, with, hopefully, a job in the government or public sector.

It’s not a surprise that so many athletes have been caught just a month ahead of the Commonwealth Games, to be held here from October 3. The number is a manifestation of a deep-rooted malaise that’s been plaguing Indian sport for a while. Not all sport is exposed to such temptation. For example, shooting, boxing, wrestling till Thursday, badminton, table tennis, and tennis are some sport where doping is not too rampant.

Disciplines such as weightlifting, athletics and swimming are where rampant doping has been reported. Perhaps weightlifting is the only sport where more than 21 junior athletes tested positive in 2003-04. These are the people who indulge in doping for a living. With awards for coaches, things turned out to be more complicated. Experts believe, since then, there has been a nexus between players and coaches.

The virus

The latest spurt of athletes returning positive for methylhexaneamine also turns the needle of suspicion towards coaches, both Indian and foreign. Though there is no direct evidence, some question how a substance that is not readily available in the Indian market has made its way into sports. The athletes might be practising in different centres (Patiala, Sonepat, Bangalore and Delhi), but the substance found in their urine samples is the same. “It (the effectiveness of the substance) spreads through word of mouth,” an expert says.

Sanamacha Chanu and Patima Kumari, the weightlifters who tested positive at the 2004 Athens Olympics, brazenly said that the then Belarusian coach had administered the drug.

Ashok Ahuja, the former head of sports medicine at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, wondered how a drug not readily available in the market sneaked into dressing rooms. “That’s an angle that must be probed,” he said.

There is another factor. Athletes’ knowledge of drugs on the prohibited list is limited and that’s how they get caught. The latest instances vindicate this theory. Or else how can one explain that athletes have used a stimulant whose effect stays for just 48 hours? “This shows either the athletes were not aware of the new prohibited list (of 2010) or that they have been using supplements whose ingredients they are not aware of or substances they know give them a kick,” explains Ahuja.

Though there are geranium-based (a kind of plant) massage oils, they cannot be traced in the urine if applied topically as claimed by some athletes. “If it is applied topically, it cannot get into the blood stream,” Ahuja says. Dr P.S.M. Chandran, chief medical officer of the Sports Authority of India, however, believes that the athletes might be using the banned substances without knowing that they have been added to the prohibited list.

Redemption

In India, doping grew into prominence in the 1970s as athletes started going to Soviet Russia for training. Even now, athletes prefer to go to Ukraine for reasons unknown. Some say it’s a perfect place where a doping programme can be administered.

In private, athletes say that certain foreign coaches help them with medicines to recover fast and perform better. Earlier, the same coaches used to give written prescriptions but now they don’t. “It’s all verbal,” says a source.

Earlier, when the Indian laboratory was not accredited, a lot of Indian athletes would be given the benefit of the doubt. With the National Dope Testing Laboratory getting accreditation in 2008, there has been no dispute in the authenticity of the results. After the formation of the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), the drive against dope cheats only increased. “We can’t tolerate doping in any form,” says Rahul Bhatnagar, NADA director general. “We have been very strict in our anti-doping programme.”

We want neither Melbourne (Commonwealth Games of 2006) nor Athens repeated here. Hopefully, this October we will have dope-free Games.