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SAI's consistent bungling does not inspire hope

india Updated: Jul 08, 2011 22:20 IST
Ajai Masand

A few years back, a top national-level wrestler, Mukesh Khattri, tested positive for a banned substance but was allowed to compete in the Commonwealth Championships in Cape Town because of a 'typographical error' committed by the Dope Control Centre. On his return, he was slapped a two-year ban after the Sports Authority of India (SAI) recognised its folly.

Days before the 2002 Busan Asian Games, a wrestler was offloaded from the plane as he had 'tested positive' for a banned substance. Later, it came to light that a wrestler by the same name from West Bengal had tested positive because of which his namesake had to bear SAI's wrath.

Follies like these are unheard of in a developed sporting nation, but in India some scandals come out in the open, while a majority are conveniently buried. The current doping scandal, involving eight elite athletes, is a reflection of how deep the malaise has penetrated the operational arm of the sports ministry.

Dubious past
Some 22 years back, when SAI set up the TEAMS Wing, the objective was to provide athletes with everything they needed to reach international levels, including ensuring a dope-free environment, but today those at the helm wouldn't know what the title stands for - (Training of Elite Athletes and Management Support). Everything from the training of athletes to their dope testing and departure for international competitions comes under the purview of the TEAMS wing.

The spate of scandals is the result of TEAMS skirting the core issue of training and management and involving itself in peripheral issues, such as installing sub-standard tracks, turfs and equipment. It has also entered into annual rate contracts with suppliers of sports equipment. Project officers of the TEAMS wing, who should be at the forefront of the fight against dope - because they are the ones who manage individual disciplines - have become tools of liaison between SAI and various sports federations.

The middlemen?
Over the years, people with dubious sporting achievements and even more dubious credentials have come to rule the roost. While earlier, they created a database of talented athletes and monitored their progress, they have become middlemen in getting ministry clearance for teams travelling abroad and suppressing dope lab reports. The reason is the big prize money given by the ministry to medal-winners of international competitions.

The fault-lines just don't lie here. The corridors of SAI reek of conspiracy and it seems nothing but plots to malign one other are hatched everyday.

In such a scenario, how can one expect a 'team strategy' to stop the menace of doping?