It seems that history starts repeating itself almost with clockwork precision just when the Olympic Games --- or any other major multi-discipline event --- is round the corner. While the country should be celebrating the spirit of the quadrennial games, there is discontent, and discord, all around. And it almost always comes down to the banned substances.
While it was Pratima Kumari and Sanamacha Chanu, two leading ladies of weightlifting who looked good to carry forward the legacy of Karnam Malleswari but tested positive for banned substances during the 2004 Athens Olympics, it was Satheesha Rai and K Madasamy who brought shame to the country during the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
Four years later, in 2006, two more lifters, Edwin Raju and Tejinder Singh, put the country in a spot at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Now, with shot-putter Inderjeet Singh’s ‘B’ sample too testing positive for androsterone and etiocholanolone, two potent steroids, the focus should shift on the coaches who almost always remain in the background but have long been suspected of playing the dirty card --- for their own benefit or for the benefit of the athletes they train.
While there have been instances of contracts of foreign coaches being terminated or some Indian coaches being suspended, it has always been a knee-jerk reaction and has come at the fag end of the foreign coaches’ careers.
In the wake of Pratima Kumari and Sanamacha Chanu testing positive for drugs, Belarusian coach Leonid Taranenko’s contract was terminated by the government, while the long-serving Indian coach Pal Singh Sandhu was stripped of his position.
The then sports minister Sunil Dutt initiated an inquiry but it was too little too late as everyone in the sports fraternity knew what all was going on in the weightlifting camp. The late Wing Commander PK Mahanand, a coach and selector, cried himself hoarse trying to convince the Sports Authority of India and sports ministry officials that everything was rotten in the weightlifting fraternity. Sadly, no one heard.
While Taranenko never returned to India --- or the Indian officials were intelligent enough not to call him back ---, Pal Singh Sandhu returned in 2006, this time as advisor. The excuse given then was that India had a shortage of good coaches and foreign coaches were unwilling to come.
The hand of homebred and foreign coaches in the doping saga has been established beyond doubt at both the junior and senior level, and has also resulted in random suspensions in athletics and weightlifting. But neither the sports federations nor the government have shown the will to come up with a deterrent which stops these trainers from indulging in such activity.
“Athletes are generally held responsible for taking dope but it is time the system too is held accountable. Not so long back, some coaches were held responsible and punished. Coaches are equally responsible for doping incidents, although there might be exceptions,” says Deep Bhatia, the completion director in Asian-level shooting events who has also dealt with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).
While wrestler Narsingh Yadav may have been exonerated and his ‘battle’ in the court may have pushed the news of Inderjeet Singh’s ‘B’ sample returning positive on the backburner, but it is important to touch upon every aspect of the shot-putter’s training, coach being an integral part.