17 August 2009 Sports cricket: wada

Home Alone

An ‘intrusive’ doping rule concerns all. Indian cricketers raise the lone banner of revolt.
Home Alone
Home Alone

The Indian cricket board (BCCI) seems to be spoiling for a fight with the world. Its rejection of the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) regulations—specifically, the “whereabouts” clause which mandates that athletes to make themselves available for testing every day of the year—upsets everyone in the world of sport, except the players. It angers the government, it alienates the BCCI and cricket from world sport.

To be fair to the board, the fears of the Indian cricketers about invasion of privacy and threat to security can’t be put down as the isolated whingeing of superstar egos. There have been protests worldwide by sportspersons against the new WADA regulations, which stipulate they must be available for a random drug test for an hour each day of the year. With cricket being played almost round the year, cricketers are available for testing most of the year. By contrast, a shooter or a sprinter trains in isolation most of the year, with a coach and a doctor, thus becoming more likely suspects of doping, and probably need to be policed more heavily than holidaying cricketers.

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The BCCI, effectively, is showing defiance when 571 sporting bodies and 192 countries haven’t—it is rejecting the WADA as “just a private body”. Why is the BCCI thus risking an end to cricket’s dream of being part of the Olympics, or being kicked out of the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games?

Perhaps the BCCI doesn’t really want to be part of global sporting events. “There’s no money to be made there for the BCCI,” says a source in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). “And going to the Asiad or the Olympics would bring the BCCI under some control, even if nominal, of the government or the IOA.” For instance, all sporting associations must get their teams and staff cleared, through IOA, by the sports ministry. “They’ll have to follow IOA regulations, which are based on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter,” says Randhir Singh, the IOA secretary-general. “This takes effect from the day the team leaves for the event until it gets over.”

Board president Shashank Manohar says the BCCI rejects the WADA code because some cricketers face a security threat, and because “the Constitution of India gives a guarantee to every citizen regarding his privacy”. A BCCI official, unwilling to be named, laughs, “Don’t other countries’ constitutions guarantee this?” More seriously, Manohar also claimed that until now, the BCCI wasn’t aware of the testing system. “He’s a lawyer, yet talks like an amateur!” says the official. “Why did he agree to the deal with WADA without doing any homework? Why was the WADA resolution accepted unanimously at the ICC (International Cricket Committee)?”

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Manohar isn’t available to answer these queries, but there’s frustration in the ICC over the board’s apathy towards the WADA procedures. “The ICC did everything it could do to educate the IRTP (International Registered Testing Pool) players of the processes,” an ICC source told Outlook. “There was a ‘whereabouts’ pilot phase in June and July. No Indian player participated in the project. They rejected it without trying to learn anything about it. It’s very frustrating.”

Tim May, CEO of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA), confirms this. May also says that the FICA believes that the WADA process, though intrusive, needs to be tested for a few months before it’s evaluated. “We’d be comfortable if the position is equitable and the Indians sign up too,” he told Outlook. “I’ve urged the ICC to urgently address the matter, and they’ve assured me they would.”

But does cricket, a highly skill-based sport, need such drastic testing? Yes, says Ashok Ahuja, former head of the department of sports medicine, National Institute of Sports, Patiala. “The role of steroids has increased in cricket, especially among pace bowlers, to build up the muscles and recover from injuries,” he told Outlook.

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Ahuja also talks about the use of recreational drugs by sportspersons. “Some superstar athletes, moving in seven-star society, use recreational drugs,” he says, adding that the BCCI’s suggestion that it could produce a player for testing on a 24-hour notice won’t be acceptable because these drugs can be washed out of the system in that time. May agrees that recreational drugs, which carry a WADA penalty only if detected during competition, are a concern, for there “indeed is a temptation”.

So, what now? The BCCI has suggested the formation of a cricket-specific code, and the ICC will discuss it. The equations among ICC members mean that the BCCI could have its way, especially because most players feel the rules are intrusive. Back home, though, it could get difficult. Ahuja says that though the board is a rich, independent body, it might have to pay heed to the government. “The BCCI is a society registered with the government, which supports the WADA regulations. Maybe there’s a strong case for government intervention here.”

Could the government step in? “At the moment I see no reason to,” Union sports minister M.S. Gill told Outlook. Generally, the BCCI sports a mighty swagger, caring but a fig for the barbs hurled at it. This time, though, it might be in for a fight, especially if the government explores serious means to make it abide.

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