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Age and drugs take India's athletics way off track in a year filled with controversy

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 28 Dec 2013, 22:05 IST
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Renjith Maheshwary’s doping controversy prevented him from receiving the Arjuna Award

Indian mythology and folklore the world over has given us our fair share of multi-headed monsters; creatures that often bring about chaos and destruction, only to be saved in the end by a great hero or heroine. In many a case, it involves chopping off each of the heads. But some of these mythic monsters were so well-equipped that at the fall of a head, another one would rear, just like new.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) have had quite a torrid time this year dealing with precisely such monsters, ones that have kept rearing their ugly heads over and over again. At a time of the year when the season is closed and there isn’t much to deal with for authorities, athletes and pretty much everyone else as they wind down for the season and prepare to usher in the new one, the AFI dished out some Christmas presents to a number of athletes and their respective state associations.

Boxing Day is earmarked as the occasion you get to uncover your presents, and boy, were the athletes in for a rude shock!

The AFI banned six states including Delhi and Haryana for fielding over-aged athletes. 14 other athletes also received suspensions, for duration of two whole years, after having been found guilty of doping.

These decisions were the two big talking points to emerge from the body’s two-day Executive Committee meeting on December 22nd and 23rd.

“In order to curb the overage and doping menace the Executive Committee of Athletics Federation of India, which met here on 22nd and 23rd, have decided to enforce stringent measures on both erring athletes and their respective state-units,” AFI said in a release.

The implication of this ruling is that the six states in question – Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh – will not be able to take part in any competitions organized under the banner of the AFI in the coming season.

However, the athletes from these states can participate in the events, but they would do so under the AFI banner as independent athletes; that too, post an approval from the President/Secretary of the AFI.

The report claims that 44 athletes were found to be over the age limit in various competitions through the year. For the erring athletes, the punishment is even harsher, an exile of two years.

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You do wonder if the punishment is fair, because as much as it is an athlete’s responsibility to ensure that he/she is not engaging in any activity that contravenes the established norms of fair play, the fact that the state federations were accomplices in it cannot be discounted.

You could argue that giving the state bodies a two-year ban will affect the careers of other athletes from the states involved as they would see their development stalled by a lack of funds and exposure resulting from the ban. But, isn’t that a strong message worth sending to ensure that they do not err again?

The other magic number is 14 – which is the number of athletes banned for doping. The lot that tested positive have also been given a two-year suspension from the sport. There is nothing to complain about here at all.

The damning verdict at the close of the year was bad enough, but what makes it even more worrying is the emergence of a trend in Indian athletics this year, one of repeated faux pas and goof-ups and doping instances.

It has been a tumultuous year so far filled with many embarrassing instances for the national athletics body as well as many fires that it had to go about extinguishing.

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The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), in its dope tests through the year, found 23 track and field athletes to be guilty of doping; that number was among the highest from any discipline and earned athletics a place on the leader board in number of dope-tainted athletes.

There was also the huge fracas involving national record holding triple-jumper Renjith Maheshwary. The past caught up with Maheshwary as the jumper got caught up in a doping scandal from five years ago that snowballed into a huge controversy.

Maheshwary was accused of having failed a dope test at the 2008 Nationals in Kochi. The AFI for a long time refuted claims that he had been found guilty of doping, in order to save face, as they had recommended his name for the Arjuna Award for the third consecutive year, after doing so in 2011 and 2012 as well.

The Sports Ministry wanted a final clearance from the AFI before it went ahead and bestowed the award on Maheshwary. Finally the pressure came through, and the AFI admitted that Maheshwary had indeed committed a dope violation in Kochi, though they could not locate the files which would serve as evidence. However, a letter from the AFI to the Railways, Maheshwary’s employers at the time, documenting his doping offence, proved to be the clincher in the end.

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Published 28 Dec 2013, 22:05 IST
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