|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, September 22, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Doing away with doping in sports
Facilities must be maintained
Athletes products of chemistry?
Modern athletics provides for a depressing reminder that the majority of the athletes regard dangerous chemistry and not coaching as the fastest way of getting to the finishing line despite new dope tests being evolved from time to time.
People have always tried to cheat in athletics from the days of cinder tracks and knee-touching shorts. Now some even risk their lives in a desperate effort to win.
How time flies and how traditional values, like ornaments, gather dust. Tradition has it that when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine. But now at the dawn of the new millennium, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic.
Any discussion on drugs and sport triggers off a feeling of suspicion and distrust that colours attitudes towards the contemporary sporting establishment. Among those outside the athletic community, there is a growing concern that all is not well: that idealism and the spirit of honest competition have been replaced by cynical and calculated manipulation-the most obvious forms of which are to be found in the abuse of chemicals by athletes and those who train them.
The central concept of George Orwell’s novel `1984’ was `doublethink’. `Doublethink’ means the power of simultaneously holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind and accepting both of them. The athletic world , to a certain extent, has been guilty of `doublethink’- mouthing hollow condemnations about the use of drugs in sport while, by our own inactivity and neglect, simultaneously demonstrating a tacit acceptance of the whole sorry situation.
Recently, 5000m Olympic champ Gabriela Szabo called on the international athletics body (IAAF) to impose blood testing of the sports leading lights in view of several high profile athletes like Javier Sotomayar and Merlene Ottey failing dope tests. In blood doping, fast catching up with Indian athletes, blood is withdrawn from an athlete, stored for a period of time and then re-infused. Following the initial withdrawal of blood, the body compensates by increasing the production of blood cells until a normal level is established. Then when the athletes stored blood is re-infused, a higher than normal level of red blood cells is established and the ability of the blood to transport oxygen is significantly enhanced.
Sports medicine experts opine that the `blood doping’ technique may be `elegant’ in its simplicity but in the long run is `sinister’ in its implications.
In this endless war against doping, where does the Indian athlete stand? The Sports Authority of India (SAI) lab in New Delhi is not accredited with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and hence has no legal sanctity. By and large the Indian mode and manner of testing is just a deterrent rather than a foolproof method to test and enforce sanctions. Moreover, the rumour that the Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) is hand in glove with the SAI laboratory mandarins simply refuse to fade away. In 1999, the Indian athletics officialdom was caught napping when 27 junior athletes tested positive after random checking. Instead of acting promptly, the AAFI thought it prudent to turn a blind eye. This case can be compared to a situation in which a harmless looking tumour was slowly growing, was noted, but then ignored, only to burst forth with an unanticipated intensity and malignancy.
The dope crisis in sport is just like the population explosion. It happened yesterday but everyone say it will not happen tomorrow. Some hard decisions have to be taken. Do we continue to turn a blind eye to the clear violations of the rules? Or do we seek to exercise our ethical sensibilities and begin to end a situation, which some would say make them winners-but ultimately make us all losers. It is a challenge we must not evade.
Doing away with doping in sports
India’s biggest hope for the Afro-Asian Games, Kunjarani Devi, came a cropper when she tested positive for a banned stimulant drug, strychnine, during random tests carried out at the July 12 to 17 Senior Asian Weightlifting Championships held at Jeon Ju (South Korea).
Kunjarani had won the gold medal in the 48 kg category. The International Weightlifting Federation has suspended her from all international events for six months. Kunjarani, however, seems to be merely the tip of the iceberg. Following a dope trial at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, woman weightlifter P. Sailja tested positive. Sailja’s 10 male colleagues fled the training camp after they learned they would be tested the following day.
Curiously, Kunjarani had been cleared by urine tests at the National Stadium laboratory in New Delhi. On August 21, the Delhi High Court, hearing a petition filed by the Health Fitness Trust, ordered the government to set up a fully-equipped drug testing laboratory of international standard in the country. P.T. Usha, the former sprint queen, has commented that the laboratory in India is not a recognised one.
Using performance-boosting drugs now seems to be rampant in competitive sports. At the World Championships held at Edmonton, Canada, in August, drug testing of up to 10 athletes indicated they had used the banned hormone erythropoetin (EPO). Initial tests showed higher levels of red blood cells, which can signal the use of EPO; however, EPO can also occur naturally in the body.
Why do athletes take drugs? At the Dubin Inquiry (1990), which was conducted after five Canadian atheletes were disqualified for using anabolic steroids at the Seoul Olympics, various reasons were cited for the use of drugs by athletes in sports. Among these were: media pressure to win, performance-linked payments to athletes from governments or sponsors; belief in the medical profession’s capacity to cure and improve performance; psychological belief in the ‘magic pill’; crowded competition calendar; and the development of spectator sports. Athletes who have reached the limits of their capability by conventional methods of training may also resort to drugs.
However, concrete evidence to verify or nullify the claims of drug effects on performance is scanty. The favourite performance-boosting drugs are the anabolic steroids. These are synthetic analogues of the natural steroids or hormones produced by the gonads or sex glands. The anabolic steroids were developed in attempts to separate the masculinizing aspects of steroids from their ability to develop muscles. However, the increased body weight may be more than the athlete’s body was made for, and may thus result in injury. Also, the tendons may be injured due to their inability to adjust to the rapid growth of muscles. Some doctors believe that steroids have a strong placebo effect, since the user can see changes occuring in his body.
To combat drug abuse, the IOC’s Medical Commission requires that the first four finishers in all events be tested for drugs at the end of each event, along with another selected at random from the competitors. Each athlete gives at least 75 ml urine under the close scrutiny of a sampling officer resulting the same sex; this is put into two coded bottles chosen by the athlete, sealed and sent by courier, along with a chain of custody documents, to an accredited laboratory. The ‘A’ sample is prepared for analysis, whilst the ‘B’ sample is stored at low temperatures (4 degrees or less) pending the result of the analysis of the B sample. Sports that have record performances, such as track and field athletics, swimming and athletics, can require negative tests to ratify a record. In the case of a positive result the competitor is notified and may be suspended from competition during the investigation. The competitor is invited to attend the governing body hearing at which the analytical report is considered. The competitor has right to appeal.
Since a competitor may be dehydrated at the end of an event and could need time to produce a urine sample, he is invited to consume drinks at the doping control station; these are individually sealed, non-alcoholic and caffeine-free. These precautions are meant to ward off allegations that the drinks were spiked.
The drugs now in use are so sophisticated that a continuous testing programme has become the only way to control the use of drugs. Out-of-competition testing is now resorted to counter the athletes’ use of drugs in training, which are then stopped a short time before testing. The athlete retains the effects of the drug but avoids detection. Performance-enhancing drugs are taken so far ahead of the event that the body breaks them down, and the testing laboratory has to look for the metabolites (break-down products) rather than for the drugs as such. There is the possibility that the testing laboratory may not have wizened up to the latest drugs being used. For example, arginine, an amino acid found in a balanced diet, also stimulates the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which is used in the belief that it improves lean body mass. Arginine would be most difficult, if not impossible, to detect.
EPO is also difficult to detect in the body because it disappears very quickly; the testing must be done within eight hours of the sample being taken, which means that the laboratory must be located near the stadium. The IOC announced that it would be testing for EPO, for the first time, at the Sydney Olympics. In the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lilehammer, blood samples were taken to detect blood doping. Blood doping (autologous transfusion) involves the transfusion of the athlete’s own blood previously withdrawn and stored. It gives the athlete an overnight improvement in oxygen-carrying capacity. However, it is considered unlikely that blood doping will become widespread, because, for one thing, it requires the help of skilled personnel and a period of storage for four to five weeks in a blood bank, which increases the risk of detection.
Facilities must be maintained
The Afro Asian Games has been put in cold storage again. The postponement, a bitter pill for Suresh Kalmadi and the IOA, was an inevitable outcome of the tragedy in New York on September 11. Its widespread ramifications, already too harsh a reality, cannot be ignored. You cannot play games at a time like this.
What next? The situation is still too fluid for the Government to rethink on the matter Though Suresh Kalmadi has talked about new dates in March there is big doubt if the Games will even come off at all. It may just die a natural death, a still born phenomenon. If the games had to be held, it had to be as scheduled. The spell is now broken. It will be difficult to revive the whole project and the enthusiasm built for it all over again particularly in view of the tight financial position the country is likely to face in the coming months.
The Games may or may not have been a success but at the moment of cancellation the plus point is that the inter-continental project has contributed to the work on relaying synthetic surfaces at the Nehru Stadium and the National Stadium, one for athletics and the other for hockey. The revamping of stadiums, the relaying of synthetic surfaces would never have been ordered but for the Games.
That does not mean that these facilities would go waste. In fact the Indian Olympic Association and the Organising Committee of the Games should ensure that work at the Stadiums be completed before closing shop as it were. That in itself would be a great achievement.
So what if the Afro Asian Games is not held? Why not, instead, use this opportunity to hold meets at the national level in athletics, hockey, swimming, boxing and other disciplines slated for the Games? It has been quite some time since Delhi has witness national championships in all these disciplines. The Indian Olympic Association should stop worrying about its reputation abroad and concentrate on the job for which it has been formed, namely promotion of games at the national level. One can understand the disappointment of Suresh Kalmadi. He has had to fight and survive and overcome many obstacles before getting the green signal for the Games.
The IOA and federations should stop moping and start planning on making use of the freshly revamped facilities in the next three or four months. The other and more important aspect involves both the Government, in this case the Sports Authority of India, and the Stadium administration. Some sort of an authority should be set up immediately to ensure that the facilities at the Stadiums, the upkeep of the structures themselves, are maintained in a state of readiness.
The Asian Games of 1982 was a major international success but unfortunately the authorities completely forgot about the maintenance of the infrastructure built at such a tremendous cost. They were generally allowed to decay and rot. This is an aspect that the Sports Ministry should give some thought. India just cannot afford the luxury of allowing the revamped stadiums to rot again because of disuse and lack of proper maintenance. The sports structures are too precious to be ignored and allowed to waste.
Special mention must be taken to maintain the hostel facilities for sportsmen and sportswomen at the Nehru Stadium. That has been a sore point with visiting sportspersons who have sometimes to live without water and electricity while in transition before leaving for competition abroad. The synthetic track at the Nehru Stadium must be allowed to be used by trainees, as and when they so desire.. The same is the case with the two hockey turfs being laid at the National Stadium.
With the two turfs laid at National Stadium and one at the Shivaji Stadium, the hockey scene should certainly pick up considerably. Delhi would be the only city in India with three astroturfs. It is good to know that the major tournaments in Delhi will again be back at the popular Shivaji Stadium, where the turf comes under the charge of the NDMC. The authorities have taken their own time to lay a new turf here, forcing the hockey scene to be shifted to the far off National Stadium where the public just refuse to come.
It will take quite some time for the political and financial situation to become normal but till such time they do the Indian Olympic Association should take the opportunity provided by the revamped stadiums and the re-laid, in one case newly laid, synthetic playing surface to start some sort of sporting activity immediately. It is not necessary to hold only international meets to draw spectators.
Befitting tribute to Dhyan Chand
I was extremely pleased to read the report published on August 30 that the National Stadium would be named after hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. All sportslovers in the country, especially hockey players, are pleased to hear about it. Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Uma Bharati stated that the ‘‘hockey jyoti’’ lit by Dhyan Chand should be carried forward to make hockey the number one sport in the country. I am of the firm belief that if once this ‘‘hockey jyoti’’ is taken to every nook and corner of the country, the Indian hockey team will improve tremendously. In the late forties I, as a student of Shri Krishna High School, Kanwali, a village in Gurgaon district but now in Rewari, was taken to Raj Rishi College, Alwar, where the legendary player had come to show his skill. We were bewitched by his stickwork. We were arrayed to check and restrain his movement but all of a sudden he crossed us and reached our goal to strike the wooden board for a glorious goal. Among his great hockey skills was holding the ball magnetically close to his stick. Paucity of money has hindered hockey development. Surprisingly, these days our cricket players are amassing wealth. HOSHIAR SINGH VERMA,
HOSHIAR SINGH VERMA, Rohtak
US Open Kudos to Venus Williams for retaining the US Open women’s singles crown. In a historic family final she overpowered her younger sister 6-2, 6-4 to defend her title successfully. Her dominance over Serena, who was forced to play second fiddle to her older sister, was complete. Right from the beginning she took control of the proceedings. TARSEM S. BUMRAH,
Kudos to Venus Williams for retaining the US Open women’s singles crown. In a historic family final she overpowered her younger sister 6-2, 6-4 to defend her title successfully. Her dominance over Serena, who was forced to play second fiddle to her older sister, was complete. Right from the beginning she took control of the proceedings.
TARSEM S. BUMRAH, Batala
Indian team The selectors under the chairmanship of Chandu Borde have done well in announcing a balanced team by recalling Srinath, Prasad, Anil Kumble and Yuvraj besides others and replacing out-of-form Dighe with Bengal’s Deep Dasgupta. Since South African pitches are fast, accurate fast ball attack will yield the desired results. Sachin’s recovery shall certainly boost our morale. But along with all fireworks, we must display a fighting spirit. We must also observe the code of conduct. Y.L. CHOPRA,
The selectors under the chairmanship of Chandu Borde have done well in announcing a balanced team by recalling Srinath, Prasad, Anil Kumble and Yuvraj besides others and replacing out-of-form Dighe with Bengal’s Deep Dasgupta. Since South African pitches are fast, accurate fast ball attack will yield the desired results. Sachin’s recovery shall certainly boost our morale. But along with all fireworks, we must display a fighting spirit. We must also observe the code of conduct.
Y.L. CHOPRA, Bathinda