It has been a trying year for Union sports minister Uma Bharati since her return to the cabinet. First, the issue of playing cricket with Pakistan stirred a heated debate. This was soon followed by a controversy over the use of performance-enhancing drugs and steroids among cricketers and athletes—it continues to be a problem area. In an interview to Outlook, the minister spells out in detail her views on the use of drugs in cricket, its repercussions and what needs to be done to put an end to the abuse. Excerpts:
Is the sports ministry conducting any study or examining the issue of drug use among cricketers seriously?
You must understand that the Board of Cricket Control in India (bcci) is an independent body and it ought to be looking at this problem. We (the ministry) are the nodal department involved only when the Indian team has to go abroad or when foreign teams come here. Otherwise, we have no control on the organisation, unless we are approached. If there is a problem with cricketers being involved in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the bcci should deal with it.
Do you think the BCCI is looking at it?
I trust it must be examining the issue. The bcci cannot afford to ignore this problem because otherwise it will lose its credibility. Eventually, the bcci will suffer. It loses its dependability even as players continue to use drugs. I am sure the bcci will take strict action.... I don't have to give it directives for it is aware of the consequences. The sports world is sensitive to this problem. If one takes drugs and achieves something, then it is not real. So, the real spirit of the sport will fade away completely. Therefore, the bcci and the cricket federations, I am sure, are aware of the seriousness of the matter and what needs to be done.
The BCCI claims it does not have the infrastructure or the wherewithal to conduct random drug tests like some other Test-playing countries. Can you comment?
Before the Afro-Asian games later this year, we are planning to import new machines which comply with international standards, approved by the International Olympic Committee (ioc). These machines will be the latest technology in dope-testing. So, any cricket federation can use it. We cannot rely on the dope-testing machines which we used in 1990-91 as they have no validity or credibility. Cricket federations can avail of the new ones.
How serious is the issue?
The whole question of doping needs to be studied in a thorough fashion. If a cricketer or an athlete has four cups of coffee or extra cough syrup, then he or she will test positive. Without proper knowledge of what constitutes taking dope and testing positive, it will be unfair to name a player. The issue needs to be studied closely and the press has to be aware.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) is in the process of drafting a comprehensive code on dope-testing. What do you think of this move? Don't you think India should welcome this?
It is good. We must welcome this step and cooperate. But there are certain countries I would not like to name, which pump their players with drugs so carefully that they pass detection. It is a very technical process and is quite difficult to spot. One must understand all the complexities involved in dope-testing and, therefore, you cannot single out India.
Random dope-tests will be introduced for the first time in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.How do you see that?
Good. I totally support that. But my problem is that doping has to be defined precisely and comprehensively. I have given the coffee and cough syrup examples. The issue of who tests positive has to be spelt out clearly in the international forum. Nobody's sporting career should be destroyed unnecessarily for flimsy reasons.
Once the parameters of testing positive are enunciated, what is the maximum punishment for a cricketer who is found guilty?
I cannot fix punishment. The penalty has to be fixed by the respective cricketing federations. I can only provide the machines. It is more of a moral penalty and even federations have no legal power. But once again, I must stress that what constitutes doping has to be defined.
Has the BCCI got back to you after reports that some Indian cricketers are resorting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs?
No, it has not. I believe the bcci must be sorting out the issue themselves. The government may step in once things go out of control. I guess that has not happened.
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