‘Is it sinister? Or is it something more significant?‘
Not a Shakespeare play but a statement by the Commonwealth Games Federation’s chief executive David Grevemberg after the discovery of syringes in the Gold Coast athlete’s village set India down a path far too well known for its athletes.
On Saturday evening, anti-doping officials discovered syringes outside what is understood to be the quarters of senior Indian boxers. The syringes have been sent for DNA testing, in what is a clear breach of the Games’ ‘no-needle policy’.
In the CGF’s account, reported on The Guardian, the syringes were found by a cleaner. Another website says they were spotted by the Australian police and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency. While the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has not mentioned the national contingent ‘responsible’, Indian team manager Ajay Narang has come out and said it was members of the national team that discovered the syringes and took it to the medical commission for analysis. He has denied any involvement of anyone in the Indian team.
Twelve boxers have been tested for doping, reported the Indian Express, whose sources said team doctors have confessed to use of the syringes but maintained that it was not for banned purposes.
Discoveries of doping or even small hints of doping have taken on new role in the new century, with transgressions put on a scale of morality that would put children’s fables to shame.
In the 2015 Anti-Doping Rule Violations report published by global watchdog World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in early 2017, India ranks third after Russia and Italy with 117 of its athletes suffering terms for degrees of doping. This is a dubious honour India has had for the two preceding years’ reports as well, in what is a situation that reeks of irony seeing that India’s medal count puts it at the bottom of any other list, ostensibly in spite of the doping.
India’s third position, one must remember, is also because the National Anti-Doping Agency is in the habit of sending regular test samples to its international big brother. The report is written on the analytical basis of these samples sent to WADA, so while countries with fewer sample offerings do get chastised in the report, they naturally do not make it to the shame rankings.
The fight against performance enhancers is also aided by money given by the governments of various countries, which may or may not find themselves out of the violators’ lists. A press release issued by WADA in February, 2018, notes a $70,000 contribution by Denmark to WADA, in addition to its $104,035 annual contribution. At the time of publishing, no such figures reflecting monetary contributions make by India to WADA was available to the writer.
One still cannot deny that for very long, athletes being tested positive for banned substances in India has been a curtain raiser for a rhetoric we are familiar with.
‘The Indian athlete comes from the village, he knows no better, she eats supplements provided by a Russian coach scarce looking at which components could land her in trouble, he is a victim of circumstance, of conspiracy, she cannot keep up with WADA’s fast-changing rules to know what has been recently made illegal,’ and so on.
Those who should know better than us have added to the rhetoric of Indian helplessness. Last year, after shot putter Manpreet Kaur won gold in the Asian Athletics Championships and then tested positive for dimethylbutylamine in the same month, the national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand said sportspersons now ran the risk of getting caught even for buying over the counter cough syrups which may have banned substances.
Gopichand named the popular common cold drug Corex to signify an athlete risked a doping rule violation in trying to cure a common ailment, yet as a report promptly pointed out, Corex had no banned element in it. Dimethylbutylamine, for which Manpreet lost out on a place in the Indian team sent to the World Championships in spite of being the world number one months before, is a drug especially acquired through a combination of banned substances, mostly to contravene laws making its comprising elements illegal to be sold or bought.
How innocent could the consumption of such a drug have been? And yet, to what extent could a 21-year-old player on the threshold of legendary domination in her sport know about every morsel she was eating?
While human revulsion is often directed at the doping sportsperson who is at the top of his or her game, the picture of doping in India is one particularly wretched. It rings no eternal truths because some athletes accused of doping have not even posted timings that reflect effects of influencing drugs.
A case in point is hurdler and sprinter Jauna Murmu who rubbed shoulders with the famed Indian women’s relay team of Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur in the Delhi Commonwealth Games of 2010. While three of the four relay runners who competed and won gold in the 4x400m relay tested positive for banned substances and received prompt suspensions, Jauna ‘ who also tested positive for anabolic steroids and got a two-year ban ‘ did not even make it past the first round heats of the women’s 400m hurdles. Jauna completed in 59.86 seconds, nearly 5 seconds after gold medallist Muizat Odumosu’s 55.28s.
In June of 2011, along with Mandeep, Sini, Ashwini and Jauna, a total of six Indian runners tested positive for illegal substances, leading to the firing of coach Yuri Ogrodnik, who by virtue of being Ukranian and therefore closer to the hotbed of Russian doping circuits was a likely scapegoat in making the fiasco sound less incriminating of Indians.
This year’s Commonwealth Games, incidentally, marks a milestone in Jauna’s comeback after her ban. A comeback is what wrestler Narsingh Yadav is now waiting for as he serves his extremely controversial four-year ban served right before his bout at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Indian sports is a picture of deprivation, be it of medals or funds. And where there is deprivation, there is politics. In lanes that grow more ‘sinister’ at every turn, it is widely believed that Narsingh testing positive for methandienone was the work of a rival camp that aimed to outdo him for a berth at the Rio games.
The laws serving anti-doping were reduced to serving the everlasting politics that chokes every Indian endeavour as Narsingh’s Olympic journey ended not on a mat but over a four-hour long hearing, where he learnt of what could be the end to his career over a doping offence that he may not even have been responsible for.
Doping in India is both sinister and significant, thrown in sadder light than doping anywhere else because there are no redeeming tears and no cohesive demand to protect and preserve the purity of athletes.