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Doping in India: A Looming Crisis Threatening Fair Play

Doping in India Continues to Haunt Sports. India Grapples with Doping Epidemic as Athletes Face Unprecedented Challenges

By Sagnik Majumder
New Update

India, known for its passion for sports, is grappling with a deep-rooted issue that threatens the integrity of its athletic endeavours - doping. India ranks second in the world, just behind Russia, in anti-doping rule violations, according to a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This unsettling trend has cast a shadow over the nation's sporting prowess and its athletes' quest for fair competition.

A Lone Runner Amidst Empty Tracks: Lalit Kumar's Ordeal

A recent incident at the Delhi state athletics meet sheds light on the gravity of the problem of doping in India. During the 100-metre final, 20-year-old sprinter Lalit Kumar, representing Uttar Pradesh, found himself running alone on the track. What was meant to be a competitive race turned into a solo run as seven out of eight sprinters withdrew from the event the moment officials from India's anti-doping agency, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), arrived for an unannounced inspection.

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Lalit Kumar, the lone runner in the deserted race, shared his experience, "On the 26th, our finals were scheduled for around 10:30-11 AM. At that time, calls were being made to inform athletes that the finals would be held on the 26th, and they were required to report by 9 AM. However, on the day, no one showed up. During the 100m event, calls were being made, and I was the only one at the venue. Actually, NADA officials were also present at the venue, so perhaps because of that, no one else showed up. So, I was the only one who ran, and then my samples were taken."

Lalit's coach, Amarjeet Kumar, confirmed that the presence of NADA officials was the primary reason for the athletes' withdrawal. "Yes, that's the reason. Word of mouth is that some athletes complained of cramps and other excuses, but the main motive was to avoid participating because the NADA team had arrived. The same thing happened in other events as well. Some players showed up, while others didn't participate. Only those who played fair were the ones who participated."

The Dark Side of Sprinting: Doping's Shadow Casts a Pall Over Natural Athletes

Amarjeet Kumar, Lalit Kumar's coach, shed light on the pervasive issue of doping in sprinting events and how natural athletes face the unfortunate consequence of losing out to competitors who resort to performance-enhancing substances. He explained, "If we inject steroids into our athletes, or if the athletes consume any such product, it will show in their bloodstream or urine, which could get them into trouble. They take urine samples, and within 15 days, NADA officials will provide the results; it's a 15-20 day procedure. It can also be extended to a month. Within a month, the athlete is sure to receive their results. People from the association brought NADA in, and it is important for athletes to know that the association is in contact with NADA, and they can be tested at any time. It is essential for athletes who are using these drugs to know that this is a crime. They are looking for shortcuts. This is not the correct approach; people should use natural methods. Now, for the natural athletes, it's quite obvious that when other athletes are using drugs or steroids, they will automatically win because they will have extraordinary energy. As a result, our natural athletes get left behind."

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Shifting Blame and Lack of Awareness: A Vicious Cycle

At the heart of the issue of doping in India, lies a troubling trend. Coaches and, at times, even parents often push for quick fixes in pursuit of victory. When athletes are caught, they tend to shift blame, with players pointing fingers at their coaches and teams, and coaches deflecting responsibility onto the athletes, claiming ignorance.

Even India's fastest woman athlete, Dutee Chand, faced a ban after failing a doping test. She stated: "Doping is not that simple. Some medicines contain some form of a drug, whether it's protein or any other substance. Sports athletes often face the risk of various injuries, and even if they take a supplement, it can show up in doping tests. Indian athletes are not highly educated; their focus is primarily on studying, playing, and training. When an athlete takes a supplement or medication for an injury, it's typically a decision made by the entire team based on the advice of a physiotherapist, doctor, or a nutritionist. As a result, the blame is often shifted to the athletes themselves, even though they may not be fully aware of the consequences since it's a team decision. Sometimes, mistakes happen."

The Absence of NADA at State-Level Events: A Critical Oversight

Another significant concern is the absence of NADA at state-level events. Smaller competitions in many parts of the country unfold without the presence of anti-doping officials, leaving a void in the fight against doping. This raises questions about how many more athletes might test positive if many of these events were subject to scrutiny.

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Chander Shekhar Luthra, a senior sports journalist, recalled, "In nationals and in state championships, we used to witness a lot of doping cases. People used to take drugs. We have seen open syringes lying around. You could see them lying in the open in the hostels and sports centres. This was a very normal thing. The Delhi incident came to light because this happened in the state championship but in the district-level championships, NADA hardly conducts any kind of searches or tests, including surprise tests."

A Complex Battle: NADA's Resource Limitations and Policy Challenges

While NADA officials were not available for comment, Olympian and Senior Vice President of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), Anju Bobby George, emphasised the complexity of the doping problem. She stated, "Doping is a crime, and it is everywhere in the world. As for athletics in India, we are doing a lot of tests, from the junior level to the senior level. Maybe that’s why the number is increasing. See, the Athletics Federation of India is taking a lot of steps to educate our athletes, and the NADA is also taking steps. So is the Sports Ministry but doping is a very complex issue".

George acknowledged the existence of a black market for banned substances and the challenges in tackling it, saying, "There is a huge black market mafia and this is a very big problem. Most of these drugs are not even produced in India. They are all imported and it keeps getting smuggled into the country in bulk and then there is a huge distribution network".

A Bleak Future Without Strong Anti-Doping Measures

In the past, NADA has faced criticism for its insufficient testing of athletes across various sports. It has also been faulted for not closely monitoring athletes' whereabouts information. NADA's resource limitations, coupled with its challenges in policy implementation, contribute to the persistent problem of doping in India. The complex web of factors contributing to doping, including the black market trade in banned substances and the lack of extensive testing, continues to challenge the integrity of sports in the nation. Without strong anti-doping measures and a concerted effort to educate athletes, coaches, and support staff, there will be no level playing field for those who choose to play by the rulebook.

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