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.