Catch me if you can! Anti-doping policy in India

India Fan
Tuesday, 21 May 2013

There has been a spate of doping scandals hitting the Indian sports scene. The response of the Indian sports administration has been criticised for being adhoc at best and the National Anti Doping Agency’s motto of dope free sport in India has not yielded any significant results so far.  Against this background Dr. Lovely Dasgupta, an Assistant Professor at The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, has written a feature on anti-doping policy in India.

Doping in sports in India

In India doping in sports started on a large scale prior to the 1982 Asiad games1. Since India was hosting the games, it became a prestige issue to win medals. Amongst the pioneers who advocated drug abuse were the Bulgarian weightlifting coaches. They openly supplied Indian lifters with dangerous drugs. Doping was not merely confined to the lifters but came into the athletics as well. Major (retd.) Joginder Singh (twice Asian gold medalist), who was closely associated with the training of the team for the '82 Asiad observed that the Indian athletes in the 1982 games were taking drugs in a big way during the training camps. It was remarked jokingly at that time that the athletes were breaking records on a big ration of drugs with no one to check them.2

Once the taste of performance enhancing drugs were introduced in the Indian sporting fraternity, it became a free for all.3 The doping scandal hitting the 2010 Commonwealth Games adds on to the timeline of doping in sports in India.4 Between 2009 to 2012 reportedly 48 Indian athletes that compete in athletics had been caught for doping.5 Further reports of doping in sports training institutes of India continue to appear in the national media. For instance at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, the premier sports training center of the country, empty bottles, syringes and packets of banned drugs were allegedly found, in the hostel rooms of the sports persons, who came to attend the coaching camps.6     


Doping and the Indian sports administration

The response of the Indian sports administrators, that includes the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, has, so far been adhoc. While the establishment of the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) in 2009 increased the level of detection, it has not had a significant impact many expected. Notwithstanding that until 2011, 366 sports persons have been found to have tested positive by NADA7, there has not have been any independent investigation commissioned by the Government to analyze the extent of doping within different sports in India. This is in contrast for example to the investigation commissioned by the Australian Government, resulting into the findings of the Australian Crime Commission.8 Furthermore NADA being controlled by the Government does not inspire confidence of impartiality. Decisions involving culpability of both the sports persons and government appointed coaches creates a conflict of interest. Mere dismissal of coaches in the face of doping scandal can be at best regarded as a kneejerk reaction on the part of the Government.9 Till date no steps have been taken to instill accountability amongst the sport governing bodies in view of the doping scandals.


The challenges

Since majority of Indian sports persons come from rural background, with no formal education, the awareness level regarding performance enhancing drugs is next to nothing. Again the primary reason for taking up sports in India is personal than professional. One has to understand the unique incentive that taking up sports in India has. There are Government jobs on offer against sports quotas and with a billion plus population and limited job opportunities, the competition to do as the coach or other official instructs is great. The lack of awareness of the dos and don’t of the WADA code thus runs through all the levels of sport and results in a hight number of Indian sports persons being easily caught.

The lack of aggressive awareness programme at the grass root level adds on to the problem. With the legal age of consent not being achieved the young sports persons are at the mercy of the informed decision of their parents. However in a country where a job and not glory is the incentive most parents are not made aware of what their wards consume. Finally when the sportspersons are caught there is no sustained national debate by the public. This is due to the fact that except for cricket, India is not a sports super power. Accordingly the goings on in other sports really does not excite the public imagination. The lack of sustained public debate also means there is a no pressure placed on the sports administrators to design an effective anti-doping policy.10


Moving forward

The expertise required in developing and executing an effective anti-doping policy in India may take a while to come into existence. Nonetheless things cannot be left untouched on the grounds of inexperience. It is therefore suggested that the coach/officials nexus in aiding and abetting doping within sports in India be strongly dealt with by conducting an independent inquiry. Secondly mandatory testing at all levels of sport should be introduced. While understandably resource crunch may be an issue for NADA. Hence the testing should be introduced in all professional sports, at all levels. The expertise developed in testing within the professional sports can later be transplanted to amateur sports. Thirdly aggressive educational programme on performance enhancing drugs needs to be introduced at all levels. Fourthly the NADA should be made a complete non-governmental body to ensure impartial detection and sanctioning of all involved. Finally the sports persons need to be trained in a manner that they are confident of performing at the highest level without the use of any banned substance. This would essentially mean investing in better training methods and techniques. Appointing proficient coaches, who can guide the athletes and not dupe them into taking banned substance.

By Dr. Lovely Dasgupta an Assistant Professor at The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

1 It's been syringe - power since Asiad '82, The Economic Times, Sunday 1st March 1993.
3 'Doping is spread across all levels of sports in India', THE INDIAN EXPRESS, Sunday 10th July, 2011

4 Editorial, ‘Dealing with the doping menace’, THE HINDU, July 12th 2011
5 K.P. Mohan, ‘Lifters, athletes dominate Indian doping list’, THE HINDU, July 7th 2012
6Manish Sirhindi, ‘Banned drugs found at NIS Campers' room’, Indian Express, June 26th 2001. See also MANAMAN SINGH CHHINA, ‘Doping: Banned drugs easily available near NIS in Patiala’, Headlines Today, July 5th 2011. 
7 As per the data published by NADA at (last visited 5/4/13)
8 BBC News Asia, ‘Australian Sports rocked by doping inquiry’, February 7th 2013 at (last visited 5/4/13) 
9 Supra note 3
10 Geeta Anand, ‘Should Poor Countries Face the Same Doping Bar in Sports?’, The Wall Street Journal, March 21st 2012 at (last visited 5/4/13)


Sean Cottrell

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