India with its vast sea of humanity and widespread interest in sport should be producing world beaters in every manner of competition.
With a population of over 1.2 billion, natural selection as good as demands it. That our performance in most sports though, barring cricket, is not up to the level expected from a nation teeming with potential paints a telling picture about the structural discrepancies in our country when it comes to moulding talent in sport.
In cricket, talented players are identified at very young ages. Cash-rich leagues such as the IPL provide incentive for conservative Indian parents to support their kids in envisioning a future as a cricketer.
But the same cannot be said for other sports. Devoid of moral or financial support, infrastructure or regulation, athletes who aspire to professionally in these sports are left with an uphill battle. Their ascent is littered with pitfalls, obstacles and deterrents, anti-doping being one of them.
It is hard enough to chart out a course for success in non-cricket sporting endeavours in India but it gets that much more difficult to navigate when an uncompromising, rigid system of international anti-doping is applied across the board.
However, that is the reality that athletes in the country have to come to grips with. On paper, it is a system of testing that is fine tuned to a much more structured ecosystem of sport but if progress is to be made, India’s athletes have to modernise their mindset to be on par with the rest of the world.
Anish Dayal, Counsel at the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court Specialist in Sports Law, conducted an online seminar breaking down India’s anti-doping laws in an attempt to educate athletes and coaches.
Sports India Show was present at the interaction to summarize his discourse.
- Very strict anti-doping regime implemented in India, the framework of which is provided by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA)
- Athletes will have to accept ‘strict liability’ for any of the banned substances found in their bodies
- In each country, there exists an implementation arm called National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA)
- NADA is responsible for sample collection from athletes, which will be processed in a WADA approved lab
- WADA renews their prohibited substance list January of every year which is available on the WADA and NADA websites
- List comprises of two classes of prohibited substances: in competition and out of competition
- Some banned substances are sport specific and may not apply across the spectrum to all sports
- Prohibited substances are categorized into two parts: specified and non specified
- Specified substances are those that are commonly found in athlete samples as they are consumed inadvertently through medicines (for example, cough syrup or asthma medicine)
- Anti-doping agency dealings will be less severe if athlete is found with these substances in his or her system
- Non specified substances are steroids and the ilk; substances that are strictly prohibited and will attract bigger anti-doping sanctions
- For an athlete whose sample flags a positive test for a banned substance, it is critical to prove where it came from
- There have been alleged cases of sabotage and doctors mistakenly prescribing meds that have prohibited substances in the past but it falls upon the athlete to ensure that those contingencies are accounted for
- The athlete needs to verify with the doctors if they are prescribing any banned substance
- It falls upon the athlete to also make sure the doctor is aware of the banned list of substances that cannot be consumed and prescribe accordingly
- Towards this end, athletes have to file their whereabouts and register themselves to a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) filling up a form called (ADAMS) which is a centralized international software
- If an athlete misses 3 testing attempts in a year, he or she will attract a sanction
- There is a procedure in WADA rules that allows athletes to get a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) that allows them to take a medication with a WADA list banned substance upon prior intimation
- Disclosure is very important in these cases – making sure the authorities are informed about the type of medication the athlete is intaking
- During the sample collection process, a Doping Control Form (DCF) is filled in by the doping officer in conjunction with the athlete
- It contains all the details regarding the sample collection
- If the athlete has a doubt or wants to make a complaint about the process – he or she can write on the form or email NADA about their concerns
- The athletes need to list out ALL the medicines that they are taking on the form – and in case they forget to, and the medicine has a banned substance in it, later appeals will not be extended benefit of the doubt
- If an athlete’s sample tests positive for a banned substance, they will be notified with 3 options:
1) To test their B sample
2) To accept provisional suspension (non compulsory for specified substances and compulsory for non-specified substances)
If the athlete does choose to accept the provisional suspension, time served will be taken into account at the time of the hearing and be deducted against the final suspension verdict.
3) Early admission – if the athlete knows that the substance came from a particular source, admitting it first and then requesting a hearing for the sanction is prudent. It will be viewed favourably during the hearing.
- If the B sample also returns a positive result, the athlete will be given an opportunity for a hearing in front of the anti doping disciplinary body which sits at the NADA premises, where he or she can make a formal case to prove that it was unknowing consumption from a particular source
- The ban for a specified substance currently stands at 2 years; for a non-specified substance, a 4 year ban will be levied which will become 8 years for a second offence
- Reduction or elimination of sanction is critical for defence so proving that an athlete’s ‘degree of fault’ is minimal – based on which the sentence can be reduced – is critical
- An athlete can appeal after hearing if he or she is not happy with the ruling or take the case to the CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sport)
In conjunction with the points that were made clear by Mr.Dayal, Sports India Show also weighed in with a question of their own regarding whether such stringent anti-doping laws were even relevant to a largely unregulated sporting ecosystem that India is.
Q) What are the legitimate chances that an athlete gets his or her sentence reduced despite proving that a positive test may have emerged due to a tainted supplement?
A) When you are actually accused of having a prohibited substance [in your system], as I said, step one is to prove where the substance came from. Numerous difficulties [associated with that]. In that case, where do you take that supplement to get it tested?
We have had situations where once pushed, the authorities themselves tested the substance. But if you are able to ultimately prove that this substance was contaminated or tainted and had no way of knowing it was contaminated…how do you prove that?
[You have to prove it] by checking on the internet. Knowledge or checking on the internet is a very important issue. We have had cases where CAS in certain awards [of sentences] has said that if you had the knowledge of how to go on the internet, then you ought to have checked and once you would have checked, would have realised that this substance is known to be tainted.
Q) Sport in India is not very regulated and chances of contamination are high. Does a black and white law on anti-doping really apply to a system of sports like ours?
A) Unfortunately or fortunately, this is how it is. This is a strict liability international system to which we subscribe to. A lot of athletes who may not have cheated may also get sanctioned – I understand that – but the logic for it is that in the larger scheme of things, we are trying to hopefully prevent doping.