The BCCI’s rejection of the doping clause has set up yet another cricket-administration battle. But is it really about invasion of cricketers’ privacy as the BCCI pleads? And does the Indian cricket body really have the option to not toe the line?
The BCCI has refused to accept a clause that allows an anti-doping agency to always know the whereabouts of cricketers, but is this even an option?
Tests are not dead for Wada (World Anti Doping Agency). For this relatively faceless but powerful institution, deceptively headquartered in innocent Montreal, the more tests there are the better. Wada is determined to rid sports of drugs. Its slogan is ‘Play True’. Its logo has two horizontal brush strokes of green set in a black square. It must mean something noble. The honourable intentions of Wada have now brought it to the door of Indian cricket. But Wada is a proud guest. It is not impressed by wealth. It is not star-struck. You may be the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Fifa or Rafael Nadal, Wada would not genuflect. It would not even be accommodating. It would not wait meekly at the door but will stride in, aware of its clout. It would deliver the message and walk out. The message, at this point at least, is that Indian players will have to agree to give Wada their whereabouts for 1 hour a day, 365 days a year. This way, Wada can test them for doping any time, anywhere.
Years ago, there was an advertisement for Skypak, the express delivery service. It showed the ‘Skypak man’ in the most unlikely places, making deliveries with a smile. The Wada man will be like him, only less friendly.
At the time of writing, the Indian cricket board has refused to sign the Wada ‘Code’. “We are agreeing with the dope testing code, we are only objecting to the system. The issue is out-of-competition testing. Our players are ready to be tested but they say they are not in a position to give their whereabouts. We back the players on this,” says the BCCI president Shashank Manohar.
If, however, the BCCI were to go along, Indian cricketers would be forced out of their comfort zone. So far, they were free to do as they pleased, they were answerable to no one but a select few. Now they would face the annoying prospect of keeping someone informed about where they are and will be (small mercy, they don’t have to tell Wada where they will be fielding).
So, Willy should be thankful that the Indian cricketers do not know about him. They would have pelted him with a cricket ball.
Willy is Willy Voet. Willy led to the creation of Wada. He was the masseur for the Festina cycling team at the 1998 Tour de France (which was like Woodstock for steroid users). A couple of days before the race, he was caught on the French-Belgian border with high quantities of doping material, including EPO, which increases oxygen in red blood cells. Voet’s arrest led to a shocking chain of revelations and events. He admitted that the drugs were for the team. The team and its director were banned. More teams came under scrutiny. An event that started with 21 teams diminished to 14. Doping had been going on for years. But the scale of the rot, which the 1998 Tour exposed, shook the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They met soon after. In November 1999, Wada was formed. Early this year, it announced the latest version of the whereabouts clause. The fate of the cricketer’s secret off-season getaway was sealed.
It is a difficult rule to accept because now nothing is off limits for the unwelcome but unrelenting ‘Doping Control Officer’ (DCO) who has the authority to show up anywhere for a ‘Sample Collection Session’, a flattering term for collecting an athlete’s piss. And it is not that they compensate with charm. The DCO who gatecrashed the home of Andy Murray, the Scottish tennis player, at seven one morning asked for identification proof from the player. “He insisted on watching me provide a sample, literally with my trousers round my ankles,” Murray says. “(He) then insisted that I wrote down my own address, even though he was at my private home at 7 am.”
The interesting thing is this. What has so far been the curse of Indian players—too much cricket—promises to be a blessing in the current situation. It can help them limit the invasion of the whereabouts rule. For most of the year, they will be in competition. It wouldn’t matter that much if the DCO drops by when they are touring. They won’t have to suffer him in their homes all that much because they themselves won’t be around most of the time. Besides, given that their schedules are made in advance, they would not have to scratch their heads over their whereabouts. The menial task of sending the information to Wada will not be their burden in any case. The rules allow them to authorise a person for the job. And this can be done with a simple text message. “It’s far easier to notify your whereabouts than it is to change your airline tickets,” says John Fahey, chairman of Wada.
Moreover, though Wada might want to know a cricketer’s movements, it might not always test him. A cricketer is thus looking at a few tests every year. In sum, once the initial wave of indignation passes and the responsibility is accepted by the player, he would realise that it is not as much of a hassle as it seemed.
That brings us to the question that romantics who quote Cardus are asking with outrage: How much of drug use is there in cricket? It is not as negligible as they would believe and perhaps not as much as in Tour de France cycling teams or Eastern Bloc Olympic contingents. But enough has happened in cricket for it to not be under watch. Shoaib Akhtar, who has broken every rule at least once, was kicked out of the 2006 Champions Trophy after testing positive for nandrolone. Shane Warne was expelled from the 2003 World Cup for testing positive for a diuretic, a masking agent.
In 2001, Anshuman Gaekwad, then the manager of the Indian team, gave a sensational interview to Outlook magazine, saying that Indian players took steroids. Later, he said he was misquoted. But the reporter gave a detailed , convincing account of the interview and his meeting with Gaekwad. Given the tendency of those in the public eye to conveniently claim to have been misquoted, there was every reason to believe the interview was genuine.
Gaekwad had said some shocking things. “Yes. It (steroids) has helped cricketers tremendously.” Asked how prevalent the practice was, he said, “When I was coach, a few batsmen and all the fast bowlers would have it during (the drinks break) to pep them up. I didn’t know the exact composition but it could have been amphetamines, stimulants or something else.” Asked about the mode of consumption, he replied, “A readymade powdered formulation… imported from Australia… it was mixed with water for boosting energy… If I am right, the physio, Andrew Leipus, procured it and it was very expensive.”
Besides, drugs in sport no longer just include performance enhancers. Cricket may seem relatively unscathed through the steroids prism, but Wada’s banned list also includes ‘stimulants’ and ‘narcotics’. Suddenly, given the orgiastic lifestyles of some players, cricket looks high-risk.
But Dr Kinjal Suratwala, chief of sports science and coach education, National Cricket Academy (NCA), believes that in comparison to other cricketing nations, doping is rare in India. “There might be a small set who indulge in recreational drugs and the odd case of someone who takes performance enhancing drugs, but not more,” he says. “Each September, we send Ranji under-22 and under-19 players a card with the list of substances banned by Wada. Only the most misguided cricketer would commit a drug offence. It is true that steroids can help some aspects of cricket, like bowling long spells, but the gains would be marginal and the risks much greater.”
Indian officials and coaches are subjects of ridicule. The evils of monetary greed, favouritism and red tape pervade the system. But steroids are not culturally a problem in India. Athletes and weightlifters who resort to performance enhancers do so at the behest of spurious Soviet Bloc trainers. “Wrestling, weightlifting, athletics are disciplines where doping is a bit more common and so is testing,” says Rahul Bhatnagar, director of India’s Nada (National Anti-Doping Agency). “But such instances are rare in cricket. We ask federations of various sports to report suspicious cases to us so that we can test the player in question. But the BCCI has never raised doubts about any cricketer yet.”
Two fireballs are now flying towards each other. One is Wada: dignified and formal but firm. “All top sportspersons are covered by the code and are providing information regularly. I don’t think Wada will bend its rules for Indian cricketers,” says Bhatnagar. The other is the BCCI: chaotic, moneyed, not used to administrative defeat. All the other countries in the International Cricket Council, which is a part of the IOC, have signed up. The BCCI has not. It has been speculated that they are ready to face the consequences, including being barred from ICC events. (BCCI vs ICC is the battle within the battle). That, though, seems unlikely. The economic reality is that with exceptions like the Ashes, there cannot be an event without India. If there is one, India has enough clout and the all-important fan base to create competitions of its own. But this is a drastic, improbable situation. After some rattling of sabres, a solution will be found. Like other federations, the BCCI will try to reason with Wada over the contentious aspects of their Code.
In normal circumstances everyone in India would have supported the BCCI’s decision. In this specific case, opinions are divided. There are many, including Abhinav Bindra, India’s first individual Olympic gold-medallist, who recommend the BCCI accept Wada’s terms. They believe it to be the duty of athletes seeking pure, fair sport. “Every athlete has the responsibility to see that sport remains dope free,” Bindra says. “I don’t think the BCCI has a chance or a choice. They will have to sign the Wada code. (Providing the whereabouts) is a simple process. Once you have a login for yourself, you create your profile by entering the mandatory location details: a mailing address, your residential address, your usual training address and a likely competition address, for the next three months.”
Tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi says, “I have been doing the ‘whereabouts’ this entire year. If the system allows those who abuse it to be caught, we should go with it. Lot of tennis players had apprehensions earlier but we are all doing it.” Wada may have its flaws but the support it has, grudging though it may be, reveals a certain respect the sports fraternity feels for it. The whereabouts clause, for all its unpopularity, will rank as a seminal one. It not only is ambitious but also mirrors the contemporary world. It reflects how corrupt sport has gotten. If there had been no drugs, the rule would not exist.
The year 1988 produced the first doping controversy with a global impact. Ben Johnson, ironically from Canada too, outran Carl Lewis in the 100 metre final of the Seoul Olympics and then tested positive for the steroid stanozolol. Cricket at that point was far removed from the Olympics. Though extremely popular in the Indian Subcontinent, it was obscure at the international level. That is not the case anymore. Nor is the world the same. Today, India and cricket hold out hope where other disciplines are stagnating. Thanks to Twenty20, cricket’s economic promise may now be second only to football’s. It is still not an Olympic sport but is more robust than most disciplines in the Games and could be, in diplomatic lingo, ‘an important ally’ in the future.
But progress comes at a price. If cricket has global aspirations, it will have to endure some inconvenience and work with agencies like Wada. With great power comes great responsibility. For Spiderman, that meant using his powers in good ways. For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it means pissing when the DCO from Wada wants him to. Till something more reasonable comes along.