Prithvi Shaw lucky he is an Indian cricketer
“Unlucky Shaw” was Jofra Archer’s tweet from 2015 that went viral soon after Prithvi Shaw was banned for eight months by the Board of Control for Cricket in India for testing positive for a banned substance. But Shaw is really lucky on multiple counts. Shaw is lucky because he is a cricketer under BCCI, which does not come under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. And despite pressure from ICC, which is planning to be part of the 2028 Olympics and so pushing for the sport to be anti-doping compliant, BCCI refuses to come under India’s National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA). Had Shaw been an athlete in an Olympic discipline, the ban would have been for a minimum two years, which BCCI acknowledged in Tuesday’s statement announcing the suspension.
The Indian Board does not have a robust anti-doping setup and cricketers are not regularly tested during all national and age-group competitions.
And while delivering the verdict, BCCI considered Shaw’s age (19) and intent (not to enhance performance) and chose to impose a light ban, that too retrospectively.
The BCCI also went by the principle that it was important “for the cricketer to know” and not “what he should have known” while delivering the verdict in accordance with its No Significant Fault or Negligence clause. The BCCI statement on Shaw refers to Maria Sharapova’s case. The Russian tennis star had tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, a drug included in WADA’s banned list just 18 days earlier, on January 1. Still Sharapova could not escape a two-year ban, which was reduced only to 15 months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled she should still have been aware.
For Shaw, there was a precedent. Yusuf Pathan was banned in 2017 for five months for the presence of the same substance in his urine sample. Even then, Shaw said and BCCI treated the drug ingestion as inadvertent and brought it under No Significant Fault or Negligence pleas of the WADA. Shaw was handed the lightest sentence possible for ingesting a substance that has been on the prohibited list for at least two years.
The ‘inadvertently ingested’ defence does not hold water with WADA, which places the onus on the athlete to know what he or she is taking. It falls under WADA’s principle of strict liability. It means “each athlete is strictly liable for the substances found in his or her bodily specimen, and that an anti-doping rule violation occurs whenever a prohibited substance (or its metabolites or markers) is found in bodily specimen, whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance or was negligent or otherwise at fault.”
In the meanwhile, Shaw played the full Indian Premier League, and that has been included in his eight-month ban from March to November, 2019.
Shaw said, and BCCI was convinced, that the former India U-19 World Cup-winning skipper, to treat cough and cold during this year’s Mushtaq Ali Trophy in February, took a cough syrup containing terbutaline, a banned substance on the WADA list. Shaw had asked a pharmacist in Indore—BCCI treated this as a smart move by Shaw and said he did not self-medicate—to give him something for the cold off the counter and did not mention to the pharmacist that he was under an anti-doping regime.
Shaw is also lucky the banned substance in the syrup was not salbutamol or formoterol. As per WADA regulations, even therapeutic use would not be considered if the presence of either substance had exceeded a certain level in the urine.
The BCCI, in its statement, said it referred to the case of Croatia tennis player Marin Cilic for the verdict. Cilic tested positive for nikethamide, a stimulant, which mainly affects the respiratory cycle, in 2013, and was banned for nine months. The substance came in a packet of Coramine glucose tablets, a permitted dietary supplement Cilic was using. He ran out of the tablets during the Monte Carlo Masters and sent his mother to the pharmacy to buy another packet. But he did not realise that the French make of the tablet contained different chemicals.
However, Cilic’s case should not have been considered ideal. Alain Baxter, a British skier, was stripped of his Olympic bronze at the 2002 Winter Games because he had used a US version of the Vicks inhaler that contained a banned steroid. His act was not considered under the No Significant Fault or Negligence clause.
Speaking to HT, Dr Abhijit Salvi, BCCI’s anti-doping manager, mentioned that WADA needs to “rethink on the policies and the medicines have to be sports specific rather than having a general list”.
WADA, while increasing punishments for dope cheats in 2015—it doubled the ban from two to four years for first offence—did say it would make the prohibited list more sports specific. Cricket was not really on WADA’s mind then. “There is no point in the chess federation, for example, testing for human growth hormones,” the then WADA president John Fahey had said.
In cricket, using a regulated amount of bronchodilator during an innings may increase a player’s stamina in a high intensity match. A slightly higher oxygen level in the blood may account for quicker singles and faster recovery to maintain strength in the hands for big shots.
Shaw did not get any advantage from his cough syrup as he was out for 10 off 4 balls against Sikkim—the match after which he tested positive. In eight innings in the tournament, he managed just 134 runs.
However, the precedent BCCI has set in handling Shaw’s case with kid gloves would otherwise have been handled with an iron fist by WADA.
(With inputs from Arnab Sen)