Doping in school sports? Had it not been for the spate of positive cases during the National School Games, no one would have noticed it. The malady, which plagued senior athletes, has today become an issue in schools and the time has come to take stern measures. This is worse than cheating in exams.
As if the dope scandal involving the nation's top women quarter-milers wasn't enough to shame the nation, school children, our future medal hopes, too have returned positive.Even more disturbing is that another eight children, three in weightlifting and five in boxing, tested positive on Thursday for hardcore steroids and stimulants. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), for now, has tested sportspersons in just three disciplines. If the future of the nation is indulging in such unlawful activities, what can we expect in the coming years?
But, are only the children to be blamed? Perhaps not. What about the coaches? What about the system in which they train? Or do we have a system at all?
The School Games, like the inter-varsity Games, has lost its aura. It's badly organised and is haunted by age fudging and cheating. The only way to fix the doping menace, perhaps, is by taking exemplary action against the cheats and their coaches.
Tainted athletes should not be part of any national federation or Sports Authority of India programme, at least while they are serving the ban. Schools too must start educating students on anti-doping. If not, the malaise will spread like a virus.
The authorities, like a top School Games Federation official, might say they took the drugs inadvertently. But one cannot test positive for such advanced diuretics, such as furosemide (used in heart failure), or steroids (stanozolol and nadrolone) used for muscle building, by mistake. The players have also tested positive for methylhexaneamine, the substance country's top athletes like Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur and others took last year.
The worrying part is the disciplines in which the athletes have tested positive — weightlifting (3 out of 20), boxing (5/30) and wrestling (3/30). These are the disciplines in which India have won Olympic medals. Out of 80 samples, 11 tested positive — 14 per cent, which is higher than the national average of four. And, not to forget the states the boys come from. While the tainted wrestlers hail from Punjab, UP and Maharashtra, the lifters belong to Punjab and Delhi and the boxers from Punjab, Manipur and Maharashtra.
It's not difficult to understand why doping has become so rampant at the school level. Not the best participate in School Games. Most of the athletes, who do well in junior nationals, become a part of the national programme or join national camps. Until now, NADA kept itself away from the School Games. And, budding athletes kept flouting the anti-doping code to win medals and secure seats in good colleges, or even find jobs in PSUs later.
It's a gamble, which used to pay off till now. Not anymore.