Days after Athletics event, evidence of rampant doping lies scattered around
'Lack of regulations and knowledge' or 'culture'? Evidence spotted during a visit to an Athletics venue in Haryana indicates uncontrolled use of banned substances.
Rohtak: The menace of doping has spread its tentacles deep into the grassroots of Indian sports, The Bridge found during a visit to the venue of the Haryana State Junior Athletics Championships on Monday.
Being caught doping - using banned chemical substances to enhance performance - has had serious repercussions on several elite athletes at the senior level. But at the youth level, a lot continues to go unnoticed. Lured by quick rewards and promises of jobs, youngsters are falling into the doping trap in the absence of regulations.
As per World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), India is third in the number of doping violators just behind Russia and Italy. India is home to 17% of doping violators. As per National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), a total of 1,181 athletes have failed dope tests in a space of twelve years from 2010 to 2022.
At the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex in Rohtak, which hosted the Haryana State Junior Athletics Championships last month, evidence of rampant doping still lies scattered around. Multiple disposable syringes and drug vials indicate what happened here on the sidelines of the actual event on August 21-22.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and Sports Authority of India (SAI) have made it mandatory to conduct doping tests at state meets, but the athletes training at the venue on Monday confirmed to The Bridge that no NADA official was present during the competition.
One of the athletes, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Nobody cares at the junior level. All these kids coming from villages and nearby cities have no awareness. Some of them are misled by their coaches or some just want to win to get the rewards. The absence of a thorough check system here makes them believe that they can get away with it."
"If junior-level kids are made aware about doping and how it affects not only the chances to play at the highest level but also the body of athletes, it will be helpful. The kids need to know the danger they are playing with. All the efforts to curb the menace of doping will go in vain if the grassroots level is ignored and no efforts are made to control it here," he said.
A local official who was present at the meet said, "A lot has to do with the culture here. The kids participating at the junior level often practice with athletes who are senior to them. These senior athletes also take part in multiple services recruitment drives and in those drives there is no control of doping. So the encouragement comes from there also."
Just before Commonwealth Games 2022, India had multiple doping cases in Athletics, which included triple jump national record holder Aishwarya Babu and Olympian Dhanalakshmi Sekar. Both of them failed out-of-competition tests and were banned by the Athletics Integrity Unit.
Consultant doctor at the National Center of Excellence (NCoE), SAI Rohtak, Sunil Kumar, explained: "A lot has to do with the parents and the trainers at the young level. Sometimes private gyms and trainers feed these athletes supplements, believing that it will be gone in two months, but the traces remain in the body and it eventually comes out if there is a doping test."
While NADA is regular with out-of-competition tests at the elite level, the junior level hangs in limbo, with hardly any tests being conducted.
The situation is similar in other sports too, as seen in the incident at the U-23 Wrestling National Championships in Kochi where wrestler Ravi Raj ran away from the venue after winning gold. But Athletics continues to be one of the worse affected disciplines.
India has been slowly climbing the medal tallies at major international competitions, but they continue to hold on to a podium spot when it comes to doping. In 2019, 152 doping cases were detected in the country, trailing only Italy (157) and Russia (167), as per WADA.
India's sports federations and NADA need to step up and focus on the grassroots levels to ensure that the practice of doping is weeded out before it spreads its wings and sucks up more young and promising athletes into it.