Doping in sports must be tackled on many fronts
Prithvi Shaw copping an eight-month ban for doping is a dismaying story for cricket lovers. It also has far-reaching implications, not just in cricket, but all sporting disciplines in the country.
Nineteen-year-old Shaw is Mumbai’s pride and joy, an opening batsman whose dazzling strokeplay marked him out as the ‘next big thing’. This city has produced an assembly of outstanding batsmen, and Shaw was the latest in a lineage that boasts of Merchant, Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Tendulkar to name just a few.
After his success as a junior player – he had captained the national team to victory in the under-19 World Cup – Shaw was fast-tracked into international cricket where too, he made an immediate impact, earning plaudits from everyone.
But after a flurry of terrific early performances, his career suddenly has slipped into problems.
He lost his place in the Test side in Australia last year because of injury, recovering in time to play in the Indian Premier League (IPC) with reasonable success. Well-wishers were awaiting his speedy return to international cricket when this doping controversy suddenly emerged last week.
The ban has come into play retrospectively – from March 16 – after Shaw pleaded that he had taken the banned substance inadvertently which was accepted by the BCCI. The smear sadly however may take longer to erase. But what really bother me is how this entire saga has played out.
There is no reason to disbelieve Shaw that his consuming the banned substance was unintended. But how come such level of ignorance exists, more so in a player who has grown from the junior ranks in the system, as it were, and spent considerable time in rehab in the National Cricket Academy?
Is the anti-doping message from the BCCI not robust enough? And if Shaw was lackadaisical about it, why did the administration not take prompt action when the transgression first became known – as demanded by regulation -- rather than now?
The crux issue, however, as mentioned at the start, is not just about Shaw or cricket, rather how India is coping with anti-doping laws in sport?
Not very well, according to Adille Sumariwalla, former national sprint champion, one of Mumbai’s greatest athletes, and currently Amateur Athletics Federation of India (AAFI) president.
Sumariwalla is among the strongest voices against doping in the country and believes the problem is a multi-headed hydra.
“Coaches are eager to expand their business, parents want speedy gratification for their efforts, and young athletes, with stars in their eyes, become easy prey’’ he says.
Sumariwalla adds, however, that beyond a certain age, knowledge about banned substances are known even to young sportspersons, so they can’t be readily absolved.
“The Internet provides all information, and not just that, substances like the steroid stanozolol (for which Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal at the 1988 Olympics) is now easily available off the counter, so everybody should know what they are buying’’ Sumariwalla says.
“There are serious challenges. Forget about misuse of cough syrups and such, health supplements that come into the country are contaminated with anabolic steroids, repackaged and sold,’’ he adds.
“Sometimes people may not know about this, but the real problem is that most times they do.’’
Sumariwalla believes that continuous education for coaches, parents and sportspersons about doping laws and the deleterious effect of drugs is mandatory. He also believes that drug-testing facilities, including those of National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), need to be drastically improved for credibility. Apart, of course, from federations and associations becoming compliant in the true sense.
Sumariwalla is emphatic that action against doping has to come strongest from two fronts: societal opprobrium and legislation. Parents and particularly coaches of budding athletes must be held accountable for their actions, because at a certain age, this is a seriously exploitative situation.
At the junior level in national athletics, workshops and interactions between coaches, parents and athletes is something he’s pushed for after several Indian athletes came under a cloud for doping. This needs to be done in all other sports, including cricket, as India aspires to become a sporting nation.
Despite facing flak for his unflinching position on drugs in sport, Sumariwalla’s nonetheless pushing for a draft bill that criminalises doping to be formalised. Such a law would be harsh. But considering the extent of the problem, scope for alternatives is narrowing down drastically.