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Explained: India's Doping Crisis – How Big Is the Problem?

Five Indian athletes have failed dope tests ahead of the 2022 CWG, as the nation's doping crisis gets exposed again

Updated
Olympic Sports
4 min read
Explained: India's Doping Crisis – How Big Is the Problem?
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Snapshot

The Indian athletic contingent is making headlines ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, albeit for the wrong reasons. Five members of the contingent – three athletes and two para-athletes – have failed their dope tests, putting the country’s alarming doping crisis under the microscope once again.

Despite correctional measures, Indian athletes' tryst with banned substances remain a major cause of concern for both the government entities and the fans, with the test results inevitably bringing its unwanted by-products – unavoidable scrutiny and needless speculation.

Here’s a deep dive into the world of doping in sports, and why it is turning out to be a major problem in the country.

Explained: India's Doping Crisis – How Big Is the Problem?

  1. 1. What Is Doping, and Why Is It a Burning Topic of Discussion Now?

    Doping refers to the practice of using banned chemical substances, known as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), by athletes. The primary goal is evident from the name itself – to enhance performance. This can be achieved in broadly four ways – by increasing muscle mass, getting an artificial spike in energy ahead of an event, cutting down on recovery time and masking the effect of other drugs.

    The very first case of doping was reported at the 1904 Olympic Games, and since then, it has been a constant feature in world athletics.

    With five cases of positive diagnosis, India has come into the spotlight just days ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Initially considered one of India’s prime contenders for a medal, jumper Aishwarya Babu failed the test conducted during the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in June.

    Following the incident, sprinter S Dhanalakshmi also joined Babu on the list of athletes who used illegal substances. She had to undergo a test carried out by the Athletics Integrity United (AIU), and with her disqualification, India is now left with no participants in the women's 100m category.

    Besides the 100m race, Dhanalakshmi was a part of India’s 4x100m relay team, where she was subsequently replaced by MV Jilna. However, the AFI might have to make further changes in that team, as a yet-unnamed member became the third athlete from the Indian contingent to return a positive doping diagnosis.

    Besides these three, two para-athletes have also failed their tests. Shotputter Aneesh Kumar, who reportedly used a masking agent, and powerlifter Geeta, who was using an anabolic steroid, have been withdrawn from the team.

    Expand
  2. 2. How Big a Problem Is Doping in Indian Athletics?

    Despite consistent and diligent attempts to curb the practice, doping unfortunately remains a major problem in the Indian athletics circuit. As per the latest report by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), India ranks third on the list of doping violators.

    As many as 152 doping violations were reported in the nation in 2019 – only behind Russia (167) and Italy (157). Moreover, it was found that about 17% of the world’s total doping violators are from India. The AIU published a list of banned athletes back in January, which features 65 Indians. According to a report published by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), 1,181 Indian athletes failed dope tests between 27 May 2009 and 22 June 2021.

    In some cases, like that of Aishwarya Babu, spectacular performances led to speculation within the fraternity. Her long jump record improved from 6.25m to 6.73m, while her best effort in triple jump went from 13.29m to 14.14m – all in a span of a couple of years. In what happens to be a bizarre exemplar of irony, the incredible ‘jump’ in performance proved to be the downfall of the jumper.
    Expand
  3. 3. How Are Athletes Trying to Circumnavigate a Positive Diagnosis?

    With the yearning for instantaneous glory over-powering morals and ethics in some cases all across the globe, ways of circumnavigating the testing system has come to light. There are two commonly used ways of doing so – blood doping and using recombinant Erythropoietin (EPO).

    In the first method, blood is extracted from either the athlete or someone else, and four of its components are frozen – the most important of which is arguably the red blood cells. The frozen blood is then re-infused in the athlete’s body to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

    As for the second method, athletes use the artificial version of a hormone, called recombinant EPO, to increase the number of red blood cells in blood, which subsequently results in a significant increase in athletic performance.

    Earlier this month, the AIU handed an Indian athlete, Adesh Yadav, a four-year ban after he was found using recombinant EPO. Only 23 years of age, Adesh seemed set for big things as he won gold in the 5000m category at the U23 Junior National Athletics Meet. As evident from this case, neither blood doping nor the usage of recombinant EPO guarantees a negative test.
    Expand
  4. 4. What Is Out-of-Competition Testing?

    To curb the rising wave of positive doping cases, NADA holds regular testing in two different ways. The more obvious one of these is called the in-competition testing, wherein athletes are tested for banned substances during a competition.

    However, to prevent the practice of doping during an off-season, NADA also organises out-of-competition testing. The athletes who are a part of the ‘Registered Testing Pool’ are required to provide NADA accurate whereabouts information, usually on a half-yearly basis. The national body might decide to test an athlete as and when they find it fit, and that athlete has the obligation to comply.

    NADA is usually very consistent with out-of-competition testing, which seems to be a necessity in the context of India’s tryst with doping. As per their reports, among the 5,103 athletes who have been tested between the start of 2019 till 28th August, 2021, 2407 have been out-of-competition tests – nearly 50%.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is Doping, and Why Is It a Burning Topic of Discussion Now?

Doping refers to the practice of using banned chemical substances, known as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), by athletes. The primary goal is evident from the name itself – to enhance performance. This can be achieved in broadly four ways – by increasing muscle mass, getting an artificial spike in energy ahead of an event, cutting down on recovery time and masking the effect of other drugs.

The very first case of doping was reported at the 1904 Olympic Games, and since then, it has been a constant feature in world athletics.

With five cases of positive diagnosis, India has come into the spotlight just days ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Initially considered one of India’s prime contenders for a medal, jumper Aishwarya Babu failed the test conducted during the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in June.

Following the incident, sprinter S Dhanalakshmi also joined Babu on the list of athletes who used illegal substances. She had to undergo a test carried out by the Athletics Integrity United (AIU), and with her disqualification, India is now left with no participants in the women's 100m category.

Besides the 100m race, Dhanalakshmi was a part of India’s 4x100m relay team, where she was subsequently replaced by MV Jilna. However, the AFI might have to make further changes in that team, as a yet-unnamed member became the third athlete from the Indian contingent to return a positive doping diagnosis.

Besides these three, two para-athletes have also failed their tests. Shotputter Aneesh Kumar, who reportedly used a masking agent, and powerlifter Geeta, who was using an anabolic steroid, have been withdrawn from the team.

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How Big a Problem Is Doping in Indian Athletics?

Despite consistent and diligent attempts to curb the practice, doping unfortunately remains a major problem in the Indian athletics circuit. As per the latest report by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), India ranks third on the list of doping violators.

As many as 152 doping violations were reported in the nation in 2019 – only behind Russia (167) and Italy (157). Moreover, it was found that about 17% of the world’s total doping violators are from India. The AIU published a list of banned athletes back in January, which features 65 Indians. According to a report published by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), 1,181 Indian athletes failed dope tests between 27 May 2009 and 22 June 2021.

In some cases, like that of Aishwarya Babu, spectacular performances led to speculation within the fraternity. Her long jump record improved from 6.25m to 6.73m, while her best effort in triple jump went from 13.29m to 14.14m – all in a span of a couple of years. In what happens to be a bizarre exemplar of irony, the incredible ‘jump’ in performance proved to be the downfall of the jumper.

How Are Athletes Trying to Circumnavigate a Positive Diagnosis?

With the yearning for instantaneous glory over-powering morals and ethics in some cases all across the globe, ways of circumnavigating the testing system has come to light. There are two commonly used ways of doing so – blood doping and using recombinant Erythropoietin (EPO).

In the first method, blood is extracted from either the athlete or someone else, and four of its components are frozen – the most important of which is arguably the red blood cells. The frozen blood is then re-infused in the athlete’s body to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

As for the second method, athletes use the artificial version of a hormone, called recombinant EPO, to increase the number of red blood cells in blood, which subsequently results in a significant increase in athletic performance.

Earlier this month, the AIU handed an Indian athlete, Adesh Yadav, a four-year ban after he was found using recombinant EPO. Only 23 years of age, Adesh seemed set for big things as he won gold in the 5000m category at the U23 Junior National Athletics Meet. As evident from this case, neither blood doping nor the usage of recombinant EPO guarantees a negative test.
ADVERTISEMENT

What Is Out-of-Competition Testing?

To curb the rising wave of positive doping cases, NADA holds regular testing in two different ways. The more obvious one of these is called the in-competition testing, wherein athletes are tested for banned substances during a competition.

However, to prevent the practice of doping during an off-season, NADA also organises out-of-competition testing. The athletes who are a part of the ‘Registered Testing Pool’ are required to provide NADA accurate whereabouts information, usually on a half-yearly basis. The national body might decide to test an athlete as and when they find it fit, and that athlete has the obligation to comply.

NADA is usually very consistent with out-of-competition testing, which seems to be a necessity in the context of India’s tryst with doping. As per their reports, among the 5,103 athletes who have been tested between the start of 2019 till 28th August, 2021, 2407 have been out-of-competition tests – nearly 50%.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Published: 
Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad
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