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Desperately Seeking Medals

India urgently wants sporting greatness — but its desire is fraught with dangers.

Written by Shivani Naik |
September 27, 2016 12:06:40 am
india, olympics, india in rio olympics, sports funding, sports funds, rio olympics, india performance olympics, olympics medals, india medals in olympics, indian atheletes, sakshi malik, PV sindhu, indian sports, sports, narsungh yadav, narsingh dope test, narsingh positive dope test, Court for Arbitration of Sport, ban on narsingh, narsingh investigation, athelete doping, indian express opinion India is harbouring heaving ambitions of sporting greatness post-Rio. But this blind pursuit should not leave behind a trail of syringes and blood transfusions. (AP photo)

India’s post-Olympics medal moaning has a sense of urgency this time that can induce some grave misjudgements among athletes: The most diabolical being resort to doping. India is now more willing to cough up money for sport through the government’s budgetary allocations and corporate CSR kitties. But at what cost — moral, apart from material — is India willing to pursue its Olympic medal aspirations? Amidst Sakshi Malik winning a bronze and P.V. Sindhu claiming silver, Indian authorities foolishly believed wrestler Narsingh Yadav — who tested positive for doping and hurriedly alleged sabotage — would be allowed to compete after a clean chit from the country’s anti-doping disciplinary panel. The Court for Arbitration of Sport shot down this plea after India’s porous defence was shredded and a ban enforced.

It was a troubling precedent because it showed the lengths India’s top sporting authorities could go to in defending a dope-accused internationally. It reduced the credibility of India’s anti-doping machinery to zero. However, Narsingh has sought the services of sleuths from the CBI to investigate the alleged sabotage. If the truth is what we’re genuinely looking for, the inquiry ought to dig deep — and include what happens in Georgia and Bulgaria where wrestlers regularly train. It’s pertinent to ask why some athletes continue to head to Russia and former Soviet centres for their pre-Olympics training — and why the government, which funds training stints and federations which govern the sport, is helpless in stopping these suspicious sorties.

It is important to question why coaches from those parts of the world and their Indian facilitators are continued with, despite rumours of tainted pasts. The truth is — sport is in a very dark place at the moment, its credibility in pieces after retrospective testing has thrown up several positives amongst past Olympic medallists. You’d be naïve to think weightlifting is the only dirty sport — the dope stink has hit sports as varied as wrestling, tennis and badminton besides athletics. Even shooting has its unscrupulous beta blockers. It would also be gullible to think Indians don’t dope: The country ranked third behind Russia and Turkey in a 2013 WADA report, with a staggering 95 violations — including 20 women.

A week into the Rio Olympics, the country wanted a medal. India’s pride, self-esteem, its very identity seemed to crystallise into achieving medals in Brazil. When two medals finally came, India’s honour was salvaged. Still, two is too few and India finds itself on the threshold of a critical mass of collective ambition. A country baying for medals is poised to do a hundred things right. However, India is also a misstep away from doing one thing utterly wrong. Cash prizes in crores are alluring incentives. Shining BMWs are even more irresistible. Even qualification to the Olympics sees a country, guilty of ignoring its athletes otherwise, loosen purse-strings. Short cuts are readily available and dope policing too slack.

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For a country serious about increasing funding for infrastructure and individuals, it’s a critical moment. For fans investing emotion into sporting icons, clean effort should be a necessary pre-condition. The dilemma occurs because an athlete who enhances his performance furtively can turn around and say it was done to bring glory to the nation. There is also the deeply faulty rationalisation: Everyone dopes, so why shouldn’t we? And finally, there is the coach’s alibi: It was only to push the limits in training, only once.

India is harbouring heaving ambitions of sporting greatness post-Rio. But this blind pursuit should not leave behind a trail of syringes and blood transfusions.

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