India’s chief national weightlifting coach, Vijay Sharma, deposed on Monday before the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) inquiring into a series of positive dope tests. He said he had no role to play in providing food supplements to the core group of lifters in the national camp.
Sharma went to the extent of saying that individual lifters decide which supplement assists in their fast recovery and convey that to the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF), which procures them. He also told the panel it’s the team physiotherapist who distributes the supplements to the lifters, but he has quit.
Five top lifters in the national camp tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid, testosterone. Now, is the chief coach a greenhorn? Or, is he trying to distance himself from the burning issue?
In this age when every bit of information is a mouse click away, Sharma could have updated himself on the products of German company Weider that are given to the lifters. If he is unable to keep track of what his athletes imbibe, then authorities should consider whether Sharma should be allowed to guide the national team aiming to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Weider makes it clear on its website that some of its products are not free of banned substances. In these days of cut-throat competition where coaching staff go all out to score a point, Sharma and his team, which includes former champion Kunjarani Devi, seem to have made no effort. That reflect in the fact that seven top lifters failed dope tests ahead of the November world championships in Houston, a Rio qualification event.
The issue of food supplements has become a huge controversy. Thus it is a big opportunity for Sports Authority of India (SAI), which oversees the national preparatory camps, to get to the bottom of the issue. So far, the premier body has kept away.
The NADA panel chief, Sanjay Mani Tripathi, has called for a thorough probe and one hopes it leads to a thorough expose as supplements are not just taken by lifters, but those in other sports too.
Weightlifting in India has the status of a pioneer, especially women with Karnam Malleswari winning the bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But the sport has also been mired in doping for years, with so many positive tests in international meets. Even the federation was briefly suspended but it wriggled out of it before the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 by paying a fine. The lessons though don’t seem to have been learnt.
Sharma’s deposition before the NADA panel shows no one is ready to take responsibility. Since being made the national coach early last year, he has criss-crossed the world with the team. Surely, he must have interacted with other coaches and gained some knowledge. It doesn’t look like he has put those ideas to use.
But it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Sharma makes a beeline to submit his application for the Dronacharya Award next year.