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Get horses for courses, not freeloading bureaucrats

Doping is prevalent across the world but unlike other countries, India has been slow to rise to the challenge. Ashok Ahuja writes.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2011 23:20 IST

Doping is prevalent across the world but unlike other countries, India has been slow to rise to the challenge.

In fact, all the stakeholders, officials, athletes and coaches knew that doping was going on. To give an example of the lax approach, the names of 257 athletes caught for doping since the 1990s are still lying in a sealed envelope with the authorities.

During the formative stage of the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL), it was decided that the lab would undertake research to discover substances in our alternative system of medicine that can aid performance and recovery but not fall under the list of prohibited substances. However, no initiative was taken even though WADA encourages it.

Official apathy
Unfortunately, our lab was headed by bureaucrats like MK Mishra, a revenue officer, who served as executive director (finance) in Sports Authority of India (SAI) from 2001 to 2004. Mishra must have gone on at least 20 foreign trips on doping matters. He wouldn't take qualified sports medicine specialists with him but would take secretary sports from the ministry instead. Even an assistant director (stores) was sent once. The lab, before its accreditation, was available to anyone for unofficial testing for a few bucks. The athletes would know the results even before SAI could.

Nothing new
The sports minister wants increased number of searches in athletes' rooms. In the past too, rooms were searched, banned substances recovered and the lists of the guilty prepared. But they all went in dustbins. Procurement of supplements has been going on for years. Despite WADA's instructions on the need to handle supplements carefully because of the chances of contamination, no care was taken. The NIS medical staff was termed as traitors when it protested.

Foreign hand
Things worsened with the arrival of coaches from former Soviet states. They, and even athletes from those countries, would bring in supplements. The foreign coaches would sell the products through the coordinator of the athletics camp or keep them with chemists and direct the athletes to buy it from those chemists only. The ministry now wants all foreign teams and officials to be frisked. But do our customs officials have the required knowledge and network. During the Sydney Olympics, one CIS country used its diplomat to smuggle in HGH (Human Growth Hormone). But the official was caught and deported. Is NADA going to put its staff at all airports?

More doctors needed
The ministry has appointed three doctors for NIS, Patiala. But in other SAI centers, the medical staff is negligible. Centres in Bhopal, Lucknow, Gandhinagar and Pune have no doctors while Bangalore has only one. Besides, SAI should pay more to doctors. Specialists earn more than a lakh a month but SAI wants them at R25,000. About 30 out of the 40-odd scientists resigned because of en masse transfers in 2005 and their posts haven't been filled.

The ministry doesn't check the supporting staff that travels with a team abroad. The IOA medical and anti-doping commission chief doesn't know a single sportsperson and has no knowledge of doping but since he is on good terms with the IOA secretary-general, he is there in the one-man commission. He travels to all major competitions.

No medical staff
The Athletics Federation of India has a doctor who never tends to any athlete but is there at every sports event at govt expense. On the other hand, a SAI doctor is always grilled. Because I used to protest, I was transferred to Bangalore. All federations are supposed to have anti-doping and medical commissions, but in most cases, they exist on paper.

To conclude, qualified medical personnel have to be brought in and the ministry needs to ensure that the foreign trips are not used by bureaucrats as junkets.

The writer is president, Indian Federation of Sports Medicine.