AFI chief warns athletes not to take banned drugs by taking advantage of COVID-19 pandemic

The Athletics Federation of India on Saturday warned athletes and coaches against using banned drugs by taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and said the country could be suspended if the doping menace continues unabated.

AFI President Adille Sumariwalla raised the possibility of more athletes outside the national camp taking to banned drugs and laid a lot of blame on the district and state level coaches.

“NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) is not doing testing now (due to COVID-19 pandemic). But I am telling the athletes and coaches to not think that because of this they can take banned drugs and get away,” Sumariwalla said during AFI’s Annual General Body Meeting here.

“These synthetic drugs (athletes might be taking) remain in the body system for a long time, for a year. They (athletes) will be caught, for certain. India is number three in doping cases in the world. India can be banned,” he added.

Sumariwalla, who was on Saturday elected unopposed as president for his third and final four-year term, came down hard on the coaches outside national camp, laying blame on them for “intentionally” giving banned drugs to their wards.

“Coaches at the district and state level give drugs to their wards and promoting doping. These are government coaches. If their wards do well, these coaches will get financial incentives and they will remain at their home station, will not get transferred.

“So, they (coaches) do all these for their own benefit but it is harming Indian athletics. Everyone should be responsible. Please educate the coaches at your districts and states,” Sumariwalla said, addressing the district and state level officials during the AGM.

Sumariwalla admitted that a lot of contaminated food supplements are available in the market and asked the athletes not to buy them from outside the camp.

“I am told that the food supplements imported from outside the country might have come clean but I think these are re-packed again in India and these may be contaminated. I am appealing my athletes to be very careful and not buy from outside. Please consult doctors before using these food supplements,” the AFI chief said.

“There are centres which are encouraging these kind of things. I think the CBI needs to be involved in these cases.”

AFI Planning Commission Chairman and Executive Committee member Lalit Bhanot said the practice of supplying performance-enhancing drugs has become “a full-fledged profession” in the country.

“It has become a full-fledged profession. Ek dhanda ho gaya. Coaches are giving medicines and even injections to their wards,” said Bhanot, who has served as AFI secretary for a long time in the past.

He said this “business” involves many people, like compounders and homeopathy degree holders.

“Sometime back, I was told by someone that a coach in Bangalore was giving injection to an athlete at a centre there and charging Rs 50,000 while the actual cost was not even Rs 100.

We have to spot these coaches and punish them. We need to root out this menace of doping,” Bhanot, one of the most experienced sports administrators in the country, said.

Sumariwalla also brought up the long-standing problem of age-fudging by athletes at the age-group events. He said here also coaches are hand in glove with the athletes.

“People are bringing false date of birth certificates or are impersonating, the date of births are being changed. Coaches are taking money to change DoB of athletes and taking them to their sports schools,” he said, mentioning such practice in some areas in Maharashtra.

“To fight this menace, we need a minimum of 100,000 biometric identity cards which are very expensive. But we have to do this (issuing biometric identity cards) to fight this menace.”