An Australian takes charge of Indian hockey team and a week later, an Ukrainian athletics coach gets the boot following yet another doping scandal. Contrasting fodder for the Media and the public, but fodder none the less for us to chew on.
While Michael Nobbs will have his hands full to pull Indian hockey team out of the doldrums, his athletics counterpart, Yuri Ogrodnik, is left to twiddle thumbs for his alleged role in the latest doping scam that has put in question the credibility of the ''golden performances'' of our athletes.
Back in the 1980s, when I was on the athletics beat, there were plenty of whispers of athletes resorting to doping the roots of which can be traced back to the previous decade when Europeans, especially from those behind the erstwhile Iron Curtain, ruled the roost.Doping mess: Coach sacked; government, IOA in blamegame
At that time, the National Institute of Sports sent out many Indian coaches to East Germany and the Soviet bloc countries for ''advanced training''. These coaches returned home an ''enlightened'' lot after learning the fine art of doping. The cancer soon began to spread.
The 1989 reunification of Germany exposed the ''specialty laboratories'' in the East where athletes were put under a systematic doping programme and fed with performance-enhancing drugs. The East Germans had turned doping into a fine art, complete with masking agents to hide traces of drugs.
Meanwhile, the influx of coaches from countries such as Belarus and Ukraine witnessed a marked increased in doping in Indian sport, notably athletics and weightlifting. Training camps were frequently held in these two countries and as PT Usha said publicly, it was here that the Indian sportspersons were put on monitored doping programme.
It was not as if the Indian athletes were unaware of doping. Rather, they were willing participants while glossing over the long-term ill-effects on their health. In India too, whether Bangalore or Patiala where major training centres are located, doping is commonplace. A couple of coaches have even confessed to me in private that doping went on with impunity. The ready availability of over-the-counter drugs without prescription contributed to the growing menace.
Yet, the sports administrators deliberately looked the other way so long as medals were won in international competitions. In fact, the likes of Kalmadi and Bhanot, both now in Tihar jail, repeatedly rejected even hard evidence of doping. When an athlete tested positive, the reactions from the guilty was predictable, as is the case now.
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Mere proclamation of innocence when caught cheating, does not absolve the athletes or, for that matter the coaches, support staff and the administrators, of wrong-doing. Rather, they should be suitably punished. Our venerable sports minster's defence that the athletes are ''illiterate or semi-literate'' and took banned substances in ignorance is absolute nonsense and reflects a man who is not in touch with reality.
I was not moved by the tears that the athletes shed during the TV interviews. Like many fellow-Indians, I felt let down, cheated and disgusted. The career of young Ashwini Akkunji, for instance, is forever tainted and it remains to be seen whether she can bounce back. Even if she does, her performances will always be under shadow of suspicion.
So, what next? I am certain that we haven't heard the last on doping in Indian sports. There is always another generation that too will yield to temptation of taking a short-cut to success if only to secure a job or an ''international'' tag. In fact, these have been the focus of Indian sportspersons for decades, and hence they always end up as ''also-ran'' at the highest level as has been with our hockey teams.
Talking about hockey, it is good that Nobbs has been given an extended tenure, but it is to be hoped that he will be treated better than Brasa or, for that matter, Charlesworth. I doubt if the Aussie can turn things around at the 2012 Olympics (assuming we qualify!). For sure, it is a long haul for both him and Indian hockey. We need to be patient.