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'Clever doping needs smarter control'
Leading the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) in the battle against the doping menace is director general Rahul Bhatnagar. In a chat with TOI-Crest, Bhatnagar revealed NADA's only objective was to keep sport clean. But at the same time, he admitted that the agency needs support from other stakeholders like national sports federations to achieve substantial success.
Several positive doping cases in the last few days. Is it a victory of sorts for NADA?
Let's not call it victory. But NADA has achieved what it had set out to. Whatever has happened in the past one week, in a way, augurs well for the country. It's good for the system. At least things have surfaced. This is basically because NADA has been taking all these steps. We have increased the number of samples we are taking. Last year, we took around 2, 700, this year we will take 3, 500. The more the number of samples we take, the more the positive results. These will be around four to five per cent of the total samples. Compared to other countries, the number is not that high.
How is the support from other stakeholders - the national federations for example? How serious are others in helping NADA weed out doping?
I won't say NADA is fighting doping alone, but we have been bringing all these cases up. But, at the same time, it's the responsibility of other agencies as well. Even if the sports federations are not abetting doping, I would like all to work together. The coach also has his responsibility - like he should see that the player is not doping.
There are allegations that the coaches are to be blamed for doping in sports. But in most cases, the athletes are banned whereas the coaches go scot-free.
It is very rare that an athlete names his coach. It is very difficult to implicate the coach. There is no evidence to show the coach's involvement. There is a provision for the coaches though - if the coaches are found guilty then they can also be banned for a few years. But it is difficult to establish a link unless the player himself says that the coach has been giving a particular substance. But that doesn't happen often.
But can't NADA intervene when a federation appoints a coach who is tainted?
If a coach is in the habit of abetting doping, then he should not be engaged in the first place. Employment of coaches is the federation's concern. The structure is such that NADA should not be involved in the training of the athlete as there will be a conflict of interest. Earlier, SAI was doing both - training as well as testing. That is the reason that a separate body was set up. Otherwise, there is a chance that one might say, "Ok these are the guys who are going to win medals for us. Let's not test them. " Now, we can take action independently.
Is there any chance that the athletes who tested positive might have doped during the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games?
One of our programmes before the CWG was to test the players several times. They did not test positive during CWG. In fact, six of these girls were tested out of competition in Patiala in April and they came negative. Mandeep (Kaur) too was tested during a competition and she came negative. It was only in June that seven of these people returned positive. There was little time between CWG and the Asian Games. But still, they were tested before leaving for the Asiad.
With the recent success, do you plan to intensify your effort?
We have increased the frequency of testing for the Olympic probables. We are also tying up with customs so that when these players go abroad, they don't come back with improper supplements. We will track the movement of coaches in India. And, of course, we will be increasing counselling sessions and will try to educate athletes.
Has the situation changed after NADA came into existence in 2009?
Earlier, these things were not coming out in the open. We now know how many positive tests there are after NADA got into the swing of things. It was flourishing all around but wasn't coming to light. We didn't know the dimensions of the problem earlier.
Is there any scope for manipulation now, as in the past?
Our National Dope Testing Laboratory is accredited by WADA. It is under the strict supervision of WADA. The results of the lab are accurate. The persons who go to collect athletes' samples are not employees of any federation. They are absolutely independent.
How difficult is it to catch an offender since new drugs, which are very difficult to detect, are coming to the market ?
It's a cat and mouse game. We have very advanced technology, but a lot is also being spent to make doping very advanced. In the end, the system has to ensure that whatever medal is won, it has to be clean.
(Interview transcribed by Arani Basu)
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