Everyone knows smoking kills. Even then people smoke. Over the years since Ben Johnson ran that 100m in Seoul and later tested positive, athletes are now well aware of the fact that performance enhancing drugs are banned.
Worse, most know drugs can cause irreparable damage to the body and even lead to death. But even then, doping like match-fixing the world over has now reached a stage where it threatens to shake the very basic of sporting spirit --- win fair. In India, things are still disorganised, hence worse.
Sukhjinder Singh, an international weightlifter died in February this year following Hepatitis B. He was in his late 30s. Jasdeep Singh, an international kabaddi player, died after a mysterious ailment last month. He was around 30. While the cause of deaths is blamed on ailments, the needle of suspicion points to prolonged use of performance enhancing drugs.
Both Sukhjinder and Jasdeep had tested positive for stanozolol (an anabolic steroid), the same substance Johnson used in 1988. And both were suspended by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) disciplinary panel for two years.
Short term goals
Teen long jumper Renubala Mahanta was lucky. Doping did not kill her, it just ended her career. The Odisha athlete won silver at the 2010 Asian juniors with a leap of 6.11m. But she tested positive during the 13th World juniors in Moncton, Canada. Incidentally, she was tested even though she wasn’t in medal contention with a jump of just 4.37m. She never made a comeback.
Unlike in the case of cigarettes, the short term benefits for the use of drugs in sport are far more tangible, a lot more alluring. An Olympic or a World Championship medal can be the ultimate.
Former 100m world record holder, Tim Montgomery of the US, had a very simple explanation when he was caught in 2005. He said the goal was to become the fastest man on earth. “It was so alluring and intoxicating apart from fame and money through endorsement and sponsors, (that) it was difficult to resist.”
But not everyone who takes drugs has Olympic dreams in mind. In Indian context, dreams and goals are varied and in most cases trivial - from ensuring a medal at the national school level meets to facilitating college admission, or getting a government job, even just peer-pressure or the fact that someone is just a bad loser.
Sukjinder, according to his teammates, still had a future in the heavyweight category. “He was good…but you can’t say he was clean,” said a former national lifter.
“It’s a very serious issue,” says an old-timer in weightlifting. “If you get caught, you are a culprit. But if you don’t get caught you are clean. The fact is everybody is involved.”
The similarity with the case of cigarettes is that availability isn’t a problem, at least in India. Most of these substances are available over the counter. The sad part is no agency keeps a record of those who have suffered or are suffering due to the side-effects of steroids.
Under the radar
While an erratic performance graph is an obvious give away for an elite athlete, the bigger problem lies in the grassroots, especially in schools and colleges where bulk of the use go undetected. “This to me is the bigger problem,” says former international marathon runner Sunita Godara.
The government and the Sports Authority of India have been found wanting when it comes to implementing the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code.
While one might not find anything wrong with pre-competition or pre-departure dope testing conducted by SAI in case of foreign-bound teams, it is actually an endorsement of the fact that ‘controlled doping’ is prevalent and encouraged in India. There used to be a time when air tickets were only issued provided the athlete’s report was negative.
Not so long back, every time teams were sent for major events like the Asian Games, Olympics, Commonwealth Games etc, the entire contingent of athletes was tested. Those caught were not allowed to travel, but conveniently let off.
Over a period of time, the list of defaulters swelled to around 300, but only a handful eventually got punished. The scenario today is more-or-less the same, but elite athletes have become more cautious as India today has a WADA-accredited lab and they face a certain two-year ban for dope violation.
Possible way out
The best way out is to listen to your conscience, but since hardly anyone his doing it, Arjuna Award winner and former international judo player Yashpal Solanki, has a more objective remedy. High-quality supplements, he says, are the substitute. “Supplements, if taken under proper supervision and from authorised dealers, can be beneficial,” he says.
He cautions that sportspersons should be careful about the brand and the contents of the product. “A lot of fake products have found their way into the market. Some local manufactures sell products which have steroids. With contaminated supplements the initial results could be good, but chances of positive tests are very high,” he says.
The other way to arrest the situation would be to improve sports science in the country. “Sports science is a vital aspect of the training system. Almost all training centres in the country should have a sports science wing. It would help in the improvement of overall standard of budding athletes and also keep them away from drugs,” says sports medicine expert Dr Ashok Ahuja.
Sadly, today even the sprawling Nehru Stadium in the heart of the Capital, supposed to be the hub of athletics in the country, lacks that facility. Remote areas in places like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala, where bulk of our sportsmen comes from, remain in the dark ages.