One of the main purposes of holding national trials in any sports discipline is to give every sportsperson a level-playing field, so that he can stake claim to a spot in the national team, and proudly don national colours in the international arena.
Not having dope checks effectively defeats the purpose for which trials are conducted – which is to select the best possible team to don national colours.
Even as the world grows increasingly intolerant towards dope cheats – the example of the entire Russian athletics team being banned by the International Olympic Committee from the Rio Olympic Games last year being a case in point – India is still grappling with putting in place a fool-proof mechanism to nail the culprits, if 2012 London Olympic Games bronze-medalist Gagan Narang is to be believed.
Reacting to the absence of a dope-control centre at the ongoing selection trials in Pune for rifle and pistol shooter, Gagan Narang tweeted: “Champions r made with right infra at the grassroots, 1 of the keys is having dope control, absent in national trials. Wonder why? @Media_SAI”.
A champion who has risen through the ranks knows how difficult it is to climb up the ladder in a system riddled with red tape. And, if there are black sheep in that system, that task becomes onerous.
Precision shooting is all about keeping your nerves steady. A muscle twitch or a slight alteration in the breathing process can wreak havoc in a sport like shooting, where every fraction of a point matters.
While dope cheats in shooting are few and far between, the possibility of someone using wrong means cannot be ruled out. If it is has happened in weightlifting, athletics, or even wrestling, in India, chances are it can happen in shooting too.
A case in point being selection trials held in July 2014 where a top woman shooter was found positive. She was banned from shooting sport for a period of six months starting August 7, 2014 to February 6, 2015.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports too are pretty stringent in this regard. In fact, each national sports federation’s renewal of annual recognition depends upon uploading compliance data on varied subjects ranging from details of elections to the steps they are taking to curb the menace of doping.
One of the documents required to be submitted by the national sports federations annually for “automatic renewal of government recognition”, says, “Note on efforts for having dope free sports and compliance to the WADA/NADA Code along with details of cases found positive during the last calendar year and action taken thereon.” Here WADA stands for World Anti-Doping Agency and NADA is an abbreviation for National Anti-Doping Agency.
While one is not quite sure whether the National Rifle Association of India erred in giving the exact dates of the trials to the NADA, or NADA officials simply did not deem it worthy to set up camp at the venue of the trials, the fact is that this aberration has not gone unnoticed, given that dope control centre and random testing had become a norm in the last few years.
The NADA team was also absent from the National Shooting Championships at the same venue last month.
There was all the more reason to have a dope control centre at the ongoing selection trials as the performance in the trials will form the basis to select the team for the ISSF World Cup, which will be held in New Delhi from February 23.
While Beijing Olympic gold-medalist Abhinav Bindra makes it a point to highlight discrepancies in the system with his short and crisp tweets, Narang too has shown he cares for the health of Indian shooting, which is still reeling under the poor performance at the Rio Olympic Games.
High time dope control becomes an exercise in urgency.