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India mired in doping scandals

N.Ananthanarayanan | May 20, 2003 14:36 IST

Medal-starved India is facing unwanted attention after a series of doping scandals and many fear the malaise is already deep-rooted.

Sports administrators are on the defensive after 21 athletes were last month found guilty of doping by the national Olympic body after being caught during the National Games in December.

Eight track and field athletes and seven weightlifters were on the list but fears that doping is much more widespread have been strengthened by positive tests in other sports such as rowing, cycling and volleyball.

Weightlifter Shailaja Pujari, a gold medallist at last year's Manchester Commonwealth Games, tested positive at a junior national meeting and officials said she is just one of 23 competitors who were caught at that event.

The Indian Olympic Association says the situation may be as serious as the problem in China a few years ago.

"It is a major problem," IOA secretary Randhir Singh said. "We are facing the kind of problem China did until some time ago.

"But China have tightened their testing procedures. We also have to fight to put down this menace," said Singh, a member of the International Olympic Committee.

DOPING WHISPERS

Doping, often the subject of whispers in Indian sporting circles, has been in the public glare since two male lifters were stripped of their medals after positive tests at the Manchester Games.

Top distance runner Sunita Rani was also stripped of gold and bronze medals she won at the Asian Games last October after the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone was found in her urine but the medals were returned after discrepancies were found in the testing procedure.

The recent cases have triggered a major media debate about whether coaches, national federations and the state-run Sports Authority of India, which has the only testing facility in the country, are doing enough to stop the menace.

Some say the huge cash incentives for medal-winners offered by the government, to encourage athletes from a country with just three individual Olympic medals, are luring poor athletes into doping as they desperately chase glory.

Banned substances are also freely available over the counter, adding to the problem, they say.

Athletics and weightlifting have led the list of doping cases in the last few years, taking the sheen off the number of medals the sports have collected.

Women's weightlifting in particular has earned India many medals at the world level, including the only bronze won by India at the Sydney Olympics, when Karnam Malleshwari became the first woman to win an Olympic medal for India, in the women's 69kg category.

LEGAL HEARING

Sports officials have in the past said action could not be taken in many cases because the SAI laboratory was not accredited by the IOC.

The SAI itself has submitted a list of more than 300 positive tests spanning nine years to a New Delhi court hearing a petition that tainted athletes were being given government sports awards.

But it has told the court that the list cannot be made public because it could face legal action over the laboratory's status.

But Shekhar Dutt, the SAI's director-general, said the laboratory was now of international standard and efforts are being made to get temporary accreditation before the first Afro-Asian Games, which will be held in India in October.

"It is a national lab and the tests are valid," Dutt told Reuters, adding that action against doping cheats is up to the various sports federations.

Union sports minister Vikram Verma warned that sports officials could face action if they failed to punish doping offenders.

"Once we get the action-taken report (of the 21 cases), we will take action against federations which have not punished the guilty," he said.

"Doping may have been there earlier also but there were not enough tests. And Indian athletes were rarely tested in international meets because we were not winning medals," he added.

"Now we've started tests even at the junior level so many cases are coming to light."


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