The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pratima, scar of a latent malaise
- The problem lies with the system

Athens: Doping has been a latent malaise in the Indian sporting fabric for some time now. It’s just that we are unwilling to accept reality and act. Doping scandals have regularly rocked Indian sports and many see covert action taken by the top national bodies in covering it all up. Not that Indians are alone on this lane. Even the US is now reeling under a credibility problem.

For India never has such a thing happened from an Olympic arena. Pratima has created dubious history.

At the National Games in Hyderabad last year, 21 athletes tested positive. Thirteen medal winners were among them. Distance runner Sunita Rani had a meteoric rise, and then she was stripped of her gold and bronze medals of the Busan Asian Games, nandrolone being found in her urine sample. The medals were returned after a discrepancy was found in the testing procedure.

The problem is with the Indian system. The SAI laboratory, the only testing facility in the country, isn’t an IOC-accredited lab and hence they face problems enforcing the law.

One must understand that Indian athletes were way off medal prospects, hence not much was detected anyway. This time, though Pratima Kumari was in a hole. The International Weightlifting Federation subjected all the 260 weightlifters who qualified for the Olympics to out-of-competition dope control. That sort of sealed the Indian lifter’s fate.

It is difficult to believe that only sportspersons are to blame. India is yet to officially sign the World Anti-Doping Agency agreement. This was expected to come through only this month. The cause for delay is anybody’s guess. There have also been eyebrows raised on the Indian affinity to a vague venue in Ukraine where all athletes must presumably go to be better equipped with ‘modern techniques’. That seems to be a load of rubbish. Only Wednesday did heptathlete Soma Biswas confirm to this correspondent that equipment in Ukraine was deplorable. Even the run up to the long jump pit was faulty and she said “there is a distinct possibility of being injured.”

So why do Indian athletes go to Ukraine' “The food is better.” It is difficult to believe that athletes travel all the way from India to Ukraine (sometimes participate in vague meets there — and in Belarus — to achieve qualification marks) to just be able to eat well!

Just before the Olympics Milkha Singh earned the wrath of many by stating that doping a dubious time control is used to help athletes qualify. Maybe Milkha really knows.

Maybe it is also necessary to educate the athletes about the different banned substance. P.T. Usha had once pooh-pohed that concept to this correspondent. “You mean nobody knows' Everybody is given a list of all banned substance when in camp. You don’t understand, you ask.” That’s elementary enough.

Not that this is foolproof. Aparna Popat was down with a cold and she had to have a medicine. Seems not much is left un-banned, so to say. Seema Antil was also unfortunate. Maybe Pratima is, too.

Canadian scandal star Ben Johnson recently said everybody at the Seoul Olympics (from where he was sent back, shamefacedly) was doped. “Everybody” is a sweeping term, but when athletes like Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones and Kelli White and Jerome Young and Torri Edwards have dope clouds hanging on them, who’s a Pratima Kumari' The entire weightlifting federation of Bulgaria has had to pay heavy fines for this.

Even the Greeks aren’t behaving like good hosts. Wednesday they withdrew sprinters Kostas Kenteris, the Olympic 200m champion and a national hero, and Katerina Thanou (silver in the 100m in Sydney) from the Games, the most honourable method, the former thought.

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