SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, November 25, 2000, Chandigarh, India

The genetically-engineered athlete
By Gavin Evans
HEY say no one remembers who came fourth. Well, no one except the British that is—for the eloquence of one athlete who came fourth, marathon man Jon Brown. Six months ago his marathon time of 2:11:17 minutes on a flat course like at Sydney would not have brought the runner within seven seconds of a bronze medal. It would have been a whole minute short of gold.

Soccer war may be for the good
By Ramu Sharma
HE recent developments in the football world is not very surprising. In fact if the All-India Football Federation had kept its eyes, ears and mind open to the world outside its internal chemistry, it would have foreseen the storm which has all but blown away its pretensions of being the controlling authority.




The genetically-engineered athlete
By Gavin Evans

THEY say no one remembers who came fourth. Well, no one except the British that is—for the eloquence of one athlete who came fourth, marathon man Jon Brown.

Six months ago his marathon time of 2:11:17 minutes on a flat course like at Sydney would not have brought the runner within seven seconds of a bronze medal. It would have been a whole minute short of gold. Surprising it may have been but Brown, not previously at top-20 marathon man, left no doubt about the cause—the absence of drugs.

“It was probably the first marathon I’ve done on a level playing field,” he said. “ Now with the new test I feel I can be more competitive.”

The new test he was referring to was for erythropoietin (EPO), a drug used by endurance athletes because it boosts the oxygen content of the blood. It is widely believed to be behind the sub-2:7 min timing routinely scored in the world’s leading marathons. The world received a hint of the scale of EPO abuse in the 1998 Tour de France when French police and customs officers came close to obliterating the reputation of the professional cycling event.

It was also taken as an article of faith in running circles that some of the world’s leading marathon runners—with Spanish and Portuguese men most commonly cited—were EPO cheats. The evidence from Sydney suggests that new urine and blood tests, even though unable to test for long-term abuse, were sufficient to scare off the Europeans.

It was hard not to notice that several favourites were running at least 10 minutes slower than their best.

And let’s not forget the Chinese. Desperate to shore up their credentials for the 2008 Olympics, they effectively traded running and swimming golds for brownie points by leaving home 27 hopefuls who failed internal EPO blood tests. This meant there would be no repeat of the superhuman times secured earlier in the decade by Chinese distance runners.

Instead, it was back to business as usual. So, Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu sprinted the 600 metres, to secure victory in the 10,000 metre, just as she did in 1992. She was aided in her task by Britain’s Radcliffe, who led from the front, allowing Tulu to break the Olympic record. Radcliffe herself finished fourth.

In the past Radcliffe, who runs with a red ribbon as part of her campaign for more effective blood testing, has said she suspected that several of the athletes who routinely broke records were cheating.

This time she seemed more trusting. “We now have blood tests and we’re doing better. Improving the tests is very important to me,” she said, but added for good measure: “The blood tests are effective enough.”

Ethiopian and Kenyan stars have seldom been suspected of EPO-abuse, which is why under cleaner conditions their medal hold has become even tighter than before. The clearest indication of this new hope came in the women’s 5,000 metres track race, won by Ethiopia’s Million Wolde in the astonishingly slow time of 13.35.49 min— the slowest Olympic winning time since the 1968 Olympics.

Yet there is ample ground for cynicism about the present and fear about the future. International athletics can cope with sluggish times in distance running, events the Americans tend to ignore. Rather tricker would be a return to, say, 10-second plus winning times for the 100-metre sprint.

Alternatively it could not cope with the equivalent of a Tour de France rackdown on elite track stars. Several drug testing experts say, off the record, that they suspect this was the real reason why the International Olympic Committee backed off at the last minute from introducing blood-testing for the modern elixir of power-based performance—synthetic human growth hormone (HGH).

The IOC’s climbdown occurred despite their sponsorship of a British-led medical team that was on the verge of perfecting a viable test for Sydney.

Some Olympic athletes continue to use anabolic steroids (usually flushed out with diuretics—a form of laxative that are also banned). At least 13 athletes were busted for these drugs in Sydney. There have also been widespread allegations of cover-ups of positive steroid tests, particularly by USA Track and Field, the national governing body for American athletics. That is why Carl Lewis—probably one of the few elite sprinters from his era who ran clean-decided to boycott the athletics part of the Games.

The steroids busts for the likes of American shot-putter C.J. Hunter —the husband of sprinter Marion Jones—and a bunch of East Europeans disguise the more routine abuse of HGH and its companion, insulin growth factor (IGFI). Without the introduction of blood tests for these drugs, the only way of catching a cheat is the red-handed route, as happened to Sergei Voynov, the Uzbekistan coach, who tried to sneak 15 phials of HGH into Sydney.

Anyone more sensible can cheat with impunity. It therefore came as no great surprise to find sprint times keeping pace with those of past Olympics and World Championships. The exception was the men’s 200 metres where the absence of star sprinters Michael Johnson and Maurice Green assured a slow time.

So to the future. The International Olympic Committee’s straight talking Medical Director, Dr Patrick Schamasch, asked whether HGH tests would be in place for Athens, was admirably frank in his reply: “I hope so, but my fear is that it will take much longer.”

He went on to add that within a few years there may be new headaches—“like gene therapy”— keeping the cheats ahead of the catches. The idea is that genetic engineering can be put to use in a variety of ways to boost performance, producing higher output of natural hormones for instance, and perhaps even through building specific muscles.

And yet, for all this, Sydney has provided at least partial relief. The ancient don’t-rock-the-establishment-boat regime of Juan Antonio Samaranch is drawing to a close. The International Amateur Athletics Federation has started to put the squeeze on USA Track and Field.

And there is now hope that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will introduce electronic passports for athletes, which, among other benefits, will allow drugs testers to keep constant tabs on their movements.

The race is on for Athens.



Soccer war may be for the good
By Ramu Sharma

THE recent developments in the football world is not very surprising. In fact if the All-India Football Federation had kept its eyes, ears and mind open to the world outside its internal chemistry, it would have foreseen the storm which has all but blown away its pretensions of being the controlling authority.

The situation which the AIFF faces in a nutshell is that nine of the 12 participating teams in the National Football League have threatened the apex body with an alternative. Either improve yourself and the general administration of the game, conduct the league in a professional manner or we will boycott it. Worse still, we will hold a parallel league!

The portends are pregnant with great possibilities. The AIFF has few options but to bow before the demands and promise to ensure better organisation of the National League. After all the demands are only just. So much money is being sunk into the league by the corporate sector. All it wants is for the apex body to conduct the league in a befitting manner. The AIFF cannot dismiss this plea or demand, whatever you call it, as unfair or term it as a challenge to its authority.

Admittedly this is the first time that the clubs have got together to issue an ultimatum of this serious nature. But then it was coming. The AIFF track record is not something it can defend. Apart from the charges of financial irregularity, the overall administration of the game is in a bad state. Indian football is in a disgraceful state. Once one of the top teams in Asia, twice Asian Games champions, India is not considered fit to be invited in tournaments outside of the geographical limits of the subcontinent. Even here the team has lost to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan on occasions. And Maldives too though it is not exactly in the geographical periphery.

The threat of boycott- parallel league and the subsequent postponement of the league is something which could have been avoided if only the AIFF had sensed the mood of the clubs and also of the corporate sector which had sunk in so much money. The most important aspect of the rebellion , if one could call it such, is the involvement of the big three from Calcutta. So far, all these years, the AIFF could have rode on the reputation and the achievements of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and to some extent even Mohammedan Sporting, though the latter does not carry the same weight as it once did. All three clubs have now come under the umbrella, partially or otherwise, of United Breweries of Vijaya Mallya. And United Breweries have not taken over or shown interest in these clubs and football merely for the fun of it. For them it is a commercial investment and a viable one. But not the way the game is administered in the country.

And in the recent times clubs in Mumbai and Goa have fallen in line. And Kerala has been a pioneer of sort with the formation of F.C. Kochin, the first professional club in the country. The Mumbai-Bengal F.C.. based in Mumbai was the second and after that it has been a chain reaction of sorts with Mahindras, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers, all coming under the umbrella of the corporate sector. In the north the emergence of JCT Mills had been the first sign of a corporate house taking interest in the game and bringing together some of the top football players of the state to form one of the most lethal combinations.

With the corporate sector taking such an active interest and increasing its involvement in terms of financial input, it was surprising that it did not question the running of the administration in the country earlier. And now that it has raised its fingers and questions the accountability factor of the AIFF, there is no reason for the apex body to cry wolf.

Football the world over is a major money spinner and despite the big noise made about cricket it is, arguably, the only game which fills the stadium. There may be more people talking and writing about cricket but for the common man, it is football which counts. The AIFF unfortunately has not been able to fulfil its role either in administration or in promotion of the game.

The corporate sector on the other hand has contributed considerably. And now with the heavy input of foreign talent, even foreign coaches (Indian coaches are not any less costly or less demanding), the industrialists are beginning to take the federation to task. Why not? Once the Federation takes money from the corporate sector to run its tournaments it cannot just brush aside the demand for a more professional conduct of the tournaments.

The present situation no doubt will be diffused what with the denial from the Indian Premier Football Association of which the top nine clubs are members and more are likely to join, that it is trying to usurp the authority of the AIFF. Denial has come from both Mr Kalyan Ganguly and Mr Vijaya Mallya (president UB Group) that there is no attempt to dislodge the AIFF from its legal responsibility. But there is a clear warning in Kalyan Ganguly’s statement issued from Bangalore “Some of us were in Spain recently and after looking at the going-on there with regard to their local league, we felt that Indian football could surely be benefited with a change of format or system in its conduct. The success of the Premier League in England, the J-League in Japan was all considered during the talk. A lot of things are happening in India. It is only a matter of time before changes in football creep in. “

But whatever we do, it would be with the full knowledge and complete cooperation with the All-India Football Federation. It is not our plan to start a sort of parallel league which will be run by a separate body “. But why should the AIFF panic? The corporate sector’s concern with the football standard in the country is genuine. If it thinks it can contribute actively to improve the standard by organising the league in a professional manner why not give it a chance? The AIFF could charge some capitation fee, send its observers, provide qualified referees, without having to answer too many awkward questions from the media. After all tournaments like Durand and the popular DCM were all run by private companies. And they did well too.


Cancellation of Pak tour unfortunate

THE recent decision of the Centre to cancel the cricket team’s Pakistan tour is very unfortunate. When we have diplomatic relations with Pakistan and ply buses and trains between the two countries, then why snap sports ties? If we are really sincere in showing our resentment we should snap all connections.


Wicketkeeper’s choice

The change of the Indian wicketkeeper once again is not a wise thing. The Indian selectors’ approach in selecting the wicketkeeper is inconsistent. Vijay Dahiya was inducted in place of Syed Saba Karim. If our selectors stick to this practice it, I fear we will not be able prepare a wicketkeeper like Gilchrist, Moin Khan and Alec Stewart.


India’s win

Saurav Ganguly celebrated victory in his first Test match as captain in style as he led India to an emphatic nine-wicket victory over debutants Bangladesh in the first Test at Bangabandhu Stadium. The spinners cut through the Bangladesh resistance. They had no answer to Indian leggie Sunil Joshi and were bowled out cheaply. India reaped rich rewards for exemplary team work. The inclusion of Javagal Srinath was a correct decision.


Junior hockey

It was nice to see Lyallpur Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Jalandhar, win the 18th Nehru subjunior hockey Title. The performance of Shivalik Public school, Chandigarh, also was outstanding. Juniors are the future of any country. It is happy to see that hockey is still alive in Punjab. Punjab is known as the nursery of Indian Hockey. The contribution of Sansarpur, which produced excellent players is still fresh in our minds. When Indian hockey was at the peak at the international level, more than half the Indian side comprised players from Punjab and Chandigarh and most of them were from Jalandhar and Amritsar. The day the dominance of Punjab players declined at the International level, the standard of hockey also declined.


Bagan victory

Heartiest congratulations to Calcutta giants Mohun Bagan for capturing the Durand Cup beating Mahindra United at Ambedkar Stadium. The credit for the victory goes to R.C. Prakash, who slotted in the golden goal seconds into extra time. Mohun Bagan made it to the final drubbing Zee Churchill Brothers in the semifinals. On the other hand Mahindra united knocked out 15 times champions East Bengal to storm into the finals. Immediately R.C. Prakash had excelled for Indian Telephone Industries last year.

Mandi Gobindgarh