Are athletes in Gold Coast aware of the “No needle policy”?

Very recently, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced the intention to send a 3-member independent team to the Commonwealth Games to scrutinise and properly study all aspects of drug testing at Gold Coast. They would be present with their main function being to implement the Commonwealth Games Federation’s standards for anti-doping in addition to providing a comprehensive feedback on how the entire process was carried out.

The Gold Coast games were declared to be a cheat-free zone with executives coming out and saying that this stricter implementation of laws would aim to restore confidence “in a shattered system”. A program called the Gold Coast 2018 High Integrity Anti-Doping Partnership was officially launched with the opening of the Commonwealth Games Village aimed at ensuring a technically sound and strategic approach to testing. This testing would be focused on several quarters- medalists as well as intelligence received from the task-force.

Also read: WADA publishes list of Prohibited Substances and Methods for 2018

A couple of days earlier, the integrity and efficiency of the latter kind of testing came into the limelight after reports of used syringes found outside or near the rooms which housed a part of the Indian contingent started surfacing. According to the Commonwealth Games Federation’s Anti-Doping guidelines, specific measures were set in case needles and syringes were found. The tip-off in this particular case came reportedly from the housekeeping staff and the part of the Indian contingent which came under the scanner was the boxing contingent.

As per what is known last, all 12 members of the Indian boxing squad have been subjected to routine testing in addition to signing an agreement which declares that they have no more syringes or needles in their possession.

Indian Olympic Association secretary general Rajeev Mehta and team manager Ajay Narang have stayed consistent on their insistence that Indian athletes are not guilty of any wrongdoing and that it was a person from the Indian delegation who discovered the needles in the first place.

A couple of things still remain murky. But to clear them all, a look at two things is necessary. Firstly, it is important to remind ourselves that India have previously been warned on their wrong usage of needles at the Glasgow Games in 2014 too after syringes were discovered wrongly disposed near an accommodation housing a wrestler and a para-athlete.

Similar warnings were dealt out during the Rio 2016 Olympics too. Basically, this is not the first time that delegations from the country have been under the scanner for the wrong reasons.

Gold Coast 2018 was declared a needle-free zone; which makes the alleged offense of Indian athletes all the more grievous should any charge be specifically proven. A quick look at the No needle policy in place states two exceptions to the rule outright.

Needles may not be used except in cases of:

  • “medically qualified practitioners for the clinically justified treatment of injury, illness or other medical conditions”- this, however, requires the submission of a Therapeutic Usage Exemption form which, ideally, should have been submitted and cleared by the Commonwealth Games Federation before the opening of the Commonwealth Games village.
  • “those requiring auto-injection therapy for an established medical condition.” This also requires a valid TUE.

Even in the case of a cleared TUE by the Federation, needles and syringes were directed to be kept in a secure location away from the accommodation. Access to this would have been available only to trained medical practitioners authorised by the specific Commonwealth Games Association delegation.

So far, both counts have been broken in that no prior declaration of needle usage had been made by the athletes in question if indeed it belonged to them. Secondly, the presence of needles in the Games village is in itself in complete violation of the guideline for secure locations of syringes and needle storage and administration.

Also read: Updates: Indian boxers tested on suspicion on doping after syringe found outside room (Reports)

The guidelines go on to add that in the case of failure to abide by these specifications, sanctions and disciplinary actions on the athletes will be taken.

Throughout all of this, it is important to remember that there is still no clarity regarding who the needles belonged to in the first place. With the Indian contingent repeatedly denying any wrongdoing, it appears that all the evidence which has led to their questioning is circumstantial. The only thing which acts against the contingent is the fact that they were in close proximity to wrongly disposed needles after already having earned a bad reputation in two previous major competitions.

Furthermore, the policy goes on to add that any injections taken after the date of the opening of the Commonwealth Games village should be made known to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) under an “Injection Declaration Form.” The very fact that the Australian Anti Doping Authority (ASADA) has launched its preliminary investigation into the matter says that the CGF had no prior information pertaining to any of the above mandates.

It is worth noting that the 2018 Commonwealth Games have ensured several provisions in place to enforce a stricter stand against Doping and wrongful performance enhancement. For one, the High Integrity Anti Doping Partnership was put in place in August 2017 and its main agenda was to ensure a more wholesome surveillance which announced the Federation’s intention of taking a stricter crackdown against doping in all its forms.

The pre-games taskforce is co-chaired by the CGF and ASADA, and has members from Gold Coast 2018, International Federations and Regional and National Anti-Doping Organisations in its midst.

More than the administration of banned substances, this task force would have moved a step further to branch and weed out crimes like possession and trafficking of such substances. Help is being taken from Australian law enforcement organisations to ensure a smooth workflow of this program.

Furthermore, in another first, under this Partnership, every single sample taken during the Games will be stored for possible re-analysis under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Without jumping to conclusions here, it is worth noting that, if any athlete from the Indian contingent is indeed found guilty of substance abuse, the last thing they will be able to do is plead ignorance to the above guidelines thanks to the IOA’s statement regarding a complete transparency on their part when it came to explaining these rules and regulations to the athletes.

For now, any substantial proof is awaited but one thing is for certain. The Commonwealth Games Federation’s stand on doping and re-establishing clean sports is definitely not one to be taken lightly.