Friday, August 7, 2009

WADA and the ‘price’ sportspersons pay to compete

The Indian cricketers’ stance on WADA compliance has drawn a lot of comment, both positive and negative. I’d like to look at this issue another way: does the Indian cricket team need to comply with a standard WADA-directive?

Instead, why can’t ICC and BCCI and other notables from the cricket world formulate a dope testing norm that is better suited to the sport and ensure regular testing to keep the sport free of dope-criminals?

Why did IOC set up WADA to put an end to doping?

Before I get into that, let’s take a step back. WADA was established around 1999 to prevent doping in sports. Though WADA is an independent body, it was raised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). Performance-enhancing drugs were tarnishing the glory and prestige of the Olympics and more importantly, the use of such drugs is detrimental to the health of sportsmen.

The Olympic Games are among the most prestigious brand of global sport, and a mega marketing opportunity [just like the IPL]. The IOC markets various rights related to the event, ‘owns’ athletes while they compete; and all event-related performance and images are the property of the IOC forever.

WADA is an important initiative that protects the brand and marketability of the Olympics.

Why have international athletes complied with an invasive whereabouts clause?

So now to come back to the contentious whereabouts issue which states: "every sportsperson must declare his/her whereabouts for 1 hour of every day for the next 3 months" and 'if the sportsperson is missing 3 times in a period of 18 months from the declared location, he/she will be banned from competing for a certain period".

Athletes who compete and hope to compete in the Olympics have signed it. Tennis pro's and FIFA initially objected, but then signed it since it is a pre-requisite for competing in the Olympics.

What is the ‘price’ every sportsperson must pay to keep sport drug-free?

Most of us (and that includes me) firmly believe that sports must be rid of doping and all efforts must be made to prevent manufacturing, trafficking and finally usage of performance enhancing drugs. Out-of-competition testing is an effective means of ensuring this.

Some of us, as the numerous public comments show, also feel that giving our location for 1 hour everyday for the next 90 days is a price we willingly pay to help rid sport of this malaise.

All Olympic athletes have signed on also because they have no choice and yes, they conscientiously update their locations on the WADA site.

Their passion for sport and pride in representing their country is, in this context, ‘controlled’ by the Olympics committee. This organisation can bar any athlete with adequate reason. [On another note, I hope this post will be received constructively, and not be seen as a ‘borderline infringement’ of any sort! J].

I must emphasize, I believe WADA serves a great cause. However, that in itself must not give anyone unlimited right over others.

WADA spends millions of dollars on research. So why isn’t it possible to come up with an alternative way for out-of-competition testing?

The practical issues around administering out-of-competition testing are also amusing, considering many of India's sportspersons have their roots in villages and often visit them, the addresses given out could be as unidentifiable as taal no 3, or quila no 6, near jhulli walan gali, Gandhi Nagar. Indian villages are not completely mapped or on GPS like the western world and finding such locations is quite impossible without the entire village knowing about outsiders looking very lost.

Can the discussion with BCCI & Indian cricket players help improve the system?

We should accept that Indian cricketers and the BCCI don’t ‘need’ brand Olympics to grow [neither did FIFA] and hence they are in a strong position to negotiate.

I don’t think we should put aside the very valid invasion of privacy and security-related issues the Indian cricket players have raised, until the BCCI and WADA can convince the players there’s a fool-proof system that will not let them down.

The risks arising from a leak are much too real and personal, for a sportsperson to ignore.

Let’s look at this issue another way: We all want to rid our country of crime. As conscientious citizens, are we willing to report to the police, for instance, our location for 1 hour (in daylight hours) everyday for the next 90 days? And will anyone not found 3 times at those locations be labeled a suspected criminal?

So, should the cricketers comply? Why should we sit on judgment if we are not willing to accept the same principle to rid our country of crime?

The cricket establishment has a unique opportunity to help improve a system that has worldwide compliance and protects athletes who commit years of training to compete at the highest level, from being cheated by dope-criminals.

Yes there is the issue of cricket being included as an Olympic game: lets not ignore this is also linked to marketing the Games and hence IOC’s need to control the process - besides the absolute need to keep the Games dope-free.

As an Olympic athlete, my humble view is: this is a case of the level of intrusion you are willing to accept to live your passion, to represent your country and for that ‘big opportunity’ to bring your dreams to life!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Inspiring Indian Sportspersons With Awards And Recognition

The National Sports Awards are meant to be a recognition of the sporting achievements as also an inspiration for the awardees to do better and for others to achieve similar standards. India has mainly 3 such awards:-

Arjuna Award- to be eligible for the Award, a sportsperson should not only have had good performance consistently for the previous three years at the international level with excellence for the year for which the Award is recommended, but should also have shown qualities of leadership, sportsmanship and a sense of discipline.

Khel Ratna: is given as award for the most spectacular and outstanding performance in the field of sports by an individual sportsperson or a team in a given year

Special Awards for International medal winners- Cash Awards ranging from Rs. 30,000/- to Rs. 50,00,000/- are given for winning medals in the Olympic, World cup/world Championships, Asian and Commonwealth Games/Championships.

Though Indian government has certainly moved ahead in the direction of making these awards more transparent in terms of selection process, further corrections/additions in policies will be prudent in making the system better.

Here are a few things that needs thinking:-

1. What happens to a World record breaking/equalling (in certain sports it can only be equalled as its already at 100%) in an recognised Sport. It is obviously a very high performance and not just limited to a particular competition. Would this not be what these awards are meant to do, promote world class performance?

2. Khel Ratna award says "the most spectacular performance"- for making an event/performance spectacular or not spectacular the MEDIA might play a major role. Spectacular is what is spectacular to the people of the country and thus it also matters on how it is presented. Can we define spectacular? Can we place a policy that can look beyond the hype, on just the sheer magnitude of the performance? What must be included to make the performance spectacular-sex, religion, region, economic background, being differently abled, level of competition, etc etc?

3. The Cash Awards- The Olympic Games are Amateur Sports (no money as prize) but it would be foolish to even contemplate that the sportspersons are anything but the top professionals in their sport. The competition demands such a commitment and given the years of training involved, its a welcome move by the Indian Government to include Cash Awards for certain competitions but (again BUT, but this is all in the hope to improve the system) a few things worth thinking about:-

(a) Again the WORLD RECORDS are not part of the performance to be rewarded.

(b) The State Governments (who incidentally have 'Sports' on the State list of Subjects) have different views and policies on the awards. Most States do not find a sporting achievement worth recognizing unless the elections are around the corner. And if they are, then they can easily out award the Centre. Some States having awarded once actually complain if the sportsperson happens to win the event again (once is enough for them). Should a sporting achievement not be a feather in the cap of the State. Should the State not at the least equal the Award to the Central Government (which actually is not responsible for Sports, Constitutionally that is). When the Sports Ministers of India meet tommorow, they might like to consider this issue.

We, as citizens are increasingly participating in how our country is faring both nationally and internationally. Sports, with its enormous benefits has helped communities, children, people of all hues worldwide, fare better. It has helped nations spread their culture, reflect their might to the rest of the world in a manner thats appreciated. India has enormous talent but who would take to this profession and be the iconic ambassadors of this country to the World unless we Indians push for greater recognition of SPORTS IN INDIA.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Much Ado Abt SPORTS

Hey, I hear this all the time, "I am a good swimmer, golfer, shooter etc etc, I want to do better, how should I go about it, I dont have any idea/ there is no help around". The story of our life in India.

I wish there were answers for all of us struggling to make something out of ourselves in sports. Why should academics be the only field where the young can achieve something. Why cannot sports become a part of our lives or for some, why cant it become a lifestyle, a profession. Arts, painting, craftsmanship, acting, singing are all professions that people have opportunities in, building a career in sports is more difficult and with fewer examples around.

I guess it needs a change in attitude towards sports, we are a long way from playing sports for recreation. And that puts us away from having sports clubs etc which we could support and thus encourage talents in our own neighborhoods. Even Inter-school tournaments, I am not sure if they carry with them the required support from the parents/school authorities. But if you have the talent and you want to do well despite the limitations around you; GO TEACH YOUR SELF.

Self teach yourself, yeah.

I know its not Simple as in Simple but then when you have 'fire in the belly' and no one to show you the path, dont let that turn into frustration. Start educating yourself about that subject, its going to take a longer time to accomplish results but the fire will keep you going and at least you are doing what you love. Educate yourself from the books (there are enough on every subject) or from being in the company of those who are achievers in that field or hear their experiences. Start absorbing. Replicate success stories, it works.

This can work for everyone and in any field. Typically I hear of the problem of the lack of coaches in sports. You can make the best of the 'bad' situation by becoming your own coach. Its possible. I know of succesful sportsmen who have done it at some point of time or the other. I have done it in the initial period of my life and won medals. 

Its also important to know how to get help. Understand your situation, find out who can help or who can get help, communicate the problem precisely to get the correct solution. People who can help are generally short on time so be precise in your communication. Internet is a great resource for information. Bottom line- IF YOU REALLY WANT TO DO IT YOU CAN DO IT.

I have also seen plenty of guys take to drinking, smoking. Thats the elevator that goes down. If your friends do it, fine but if they ask you to do it- SAY NO. You don't need the support of a crutch (smoking/drinking) to appear cool, its your attitude(your knowledge, communication skills, your principles/values)  that counts.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bangalore Times

Congratulations to the Indian Shooting Team competing in the South Asian Federation (SAF) Shooting Championships at Bangladesh. It’s literally a clean sweep of the Gold Medals. In the Indian Sub Continent, Indians are far too strong a competition for countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. How ever it’s a good competition to taste victory and then to strive to achieve similar victories in the next higher level of competition. Though one need not follow this pattern; for example, my very first International medal came in the form of Gold after 4 years of very hard struggle and that too in the big league competition like the Commonwealth Games Manchester in 2002.

To take you to an altogether different topic, I was in Bangalore for a day having been invited by a leading corporate company to be part of their in house corporate training/ competition as a judge. It was great fun and very educative for all of us. Apart from the content, it was very similar to some of the war gaming exercises that we do in the Army. Off course, instead of having enemy locations to capture, they had marketing goals to be achieved. Instead of minefields and obstacles laid out by the enemy they had financial and other market related obstacles to be cleared. And here I was to cross question them on their subjects! I have never been more attentive under closed doors.

On numerous occasions I have realized that high performance philosophies that we have applied in the Army, either while training or in active service or mental solutions we have had up our sleeves during high stress levels in competitive sport can all be applied to the corporate world to solve their problems. The more one thinks about it, the more parallels can be found. For example, the biggest issue as of now that the corporate world is facing is that of a financial downturn for the first time in many years. So in layman terms, it’s a difficult time to perform and show results. Ask a top level sportsman, how many times would he have faced such a situation? At the mental level the answers are the same. Once the mind is taken care of, the rest falls into place. Easier said then done. But then when had achieving excellence been easy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lets Communalise India

Its been a long while since i had the pleasure of talking with you. I was on an extended sabbatical, a gap year (if I may say). To tell you the truth, this break that i had has been...well...very different experience for me. I was like a machine in the last 9 years, observing only what was good for me, cutting off everything that was not helping me move further towards my aim/goal.....simply put, a programmed machine. It surely had its pleasures, m not complaining at all, just talking.

The last couple of months alowed me to experience life from a different perspective and the pleasures thereof. In my interaction with a lot of you it was very nice to know that there were a quite a few people following my blog. Well its courtesy all of you that i have started writting again ( I have to stick to a few topics as I dont enjoy the freedom of speech unlike most of you; upon joining the Army we have to surrender this civil liberty).

In this blog, let me communalise India.

I have to admit, sportsmen/sportswomen are an altogether different community. You could belong to the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Bengali, Punjabi or any other community or you could belong to the sports community (only entitled for sportspersons, not officials). What a pleasure it is to talk to people who have been sportsmen/sportswomen in their life. To hear about their difficulties or the sheer uninterupted pleasure of playing back then without the weight of studies/exams. All the "badmashi" that they did together (this community seems to be having all the fun). Listening to how, while representing India as latest as 1992 Olympic Games at Barcelona, one of the federation was receiving fax all the way from the Olympic Games through a paan shop, needless to say, the federation was housed in a shop too. Some things dont change much. Talking to people, its interesting to hear of their ability or the inability to play now and fresh vows to start again no matter what. Like me, I am sure a vast majority of sportsmen, find themselves amidst sports community (people who have been sportspersons in their lives) at common places be it at airports, parties, parks, hotels lobbies etc. Believe you me, there is no community like this community, there still is time, join this community: it has the power to change your life and the people around you.