Is grappler Narsingh Yadav, in the eye of a doping scandal, a villain or victim? That is the question. Did the 26 year-old Mumbai-based grappler make a Faustian pact, lured by the eternal glory of an Olympic medal or was his food/supplements spiked, as he alleges, by fellow wrestler Jitesh. Conspiracy theories abound. His supporters and sponsors JSW Sports are demanding a CBI probe and questions are being raised in Parliament. Narsingh tested positive for the banned substance Metadienone during a test conducted by the National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada) on June 25.
Whatever the outcome, this scandal has shaken the foundations of Indian wrestling. The scandal or conspiracy has hogged the limelight. On the eve of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the focus is no more on how many medals India will win, but whether Narsingh will go or not. This dope shame has shaken the country and divided opinion. Some scoff at the pleas of innocence and conspiracy theories and say it is just a diversionary tactic, a desperate attempt by Narsingh to avert the ban. However, he has his sympathisers, and many believe his food was spiked at the Sports Authority of India‘s (SAI) wrestling centre in Sonepat due to personal and regional rivalries.
Read | Allow Nada to do its job
Life is also full or ironies. On the eve of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, four grapplers tested positive for a banned substance and Narsingh was roped into the squad. He won a gold medal in the 74 kg category. Now he is missing out on the Olympics and unknown 24-year-old Parveen Kumar, who honed his skills at Delhi’s Chhatrasaal stadium, could be on the plane to Rio.
The Narsingh Yadav dope testing imbroglio has become a tale of subterfuge and intrigue, a Sherlock Holmes mystery. It is learnt that there was an attempt to contaminate his food on June 5. The Haryana police had also warned him of possible danger. The director of SAI, Injeti Srinivas, had offered Narsingh the chance to move out of the Sonepat camp and train elsewhere. Considering there were so many conspiracies, why did Narsingh not take more precautions?
He probably did not want to leave the Sonepat centre because in other places he would not get quality sparring partners. However, he could have taken extreme precautions like London Olympics medal winner Yogeshwar Dutt, who always keeps his doors locked and only eats food prepared at his home.
So was it an act of sabotage or miscalculation by Narsingh and his support team? Whatever the reason, the burly Narsingh is the real loser, years of sweat, toil and tears have ended in despair for this man with a Tarzan-like physique. His dreams of winning a medal in the Olympics and becoming an iconic grappler are almost over. Nada has made it clear that the punishment will be as per the guidelines of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).
History is an unkind mistress. The legendary Zinedine Zidane is remembered more for his infamous headbutt, that saw him being ejected from the field in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, than for his 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs. Narsingh Yadav, though not a legend like Zidane, will now be remembered more for the doping scandal on the eve of the 2016 Rio Olympics than for his international medals in wrestling.
The first time Indian athletes tested positive for taking performance enhancing drugs in major international meets was way back in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games. Three weightlifters, N.G. Naidu, Balwinder Singh and Tara Singh tested positive and were banned for two years. Pugilist Daljit Singh, who won a silver medal in the 1986 Asian Games, was also disqualified for testing positive. So India’s hall of shame started 30 years ago and contains some well known names like Seema Antil, disqualified after winning the gold medal in discus throw in the World junior Athletic championships in 2000, badminton player Aparna Popat, another discus thrower Neelam J. Singh at the 2005 World Athletics championships in Helsinki, weightlifters N. Kunjarani Devi in the 2001 Asian Championships at Jeonju, Korea, and Subrata Paul (1990 Commonwealth Games), Sateesha Rai and K. Madasamy (2002 Commonwealth Games).
Even in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Indian women lifters Sanamachu Chanu and Pratima Kumari tested positive. Some famous athletes have tested positive in out of competition tests. Within the space of a month in 2010 the women’s 4x400 metres women’s relay squad won gold medals in both the Commonwealth Games and the Guangzhou Asian Games. However, in the summer of 2011, three members of the quartet, Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose and Ashwini Akunji, as well as three others, tested positive and were banned for two years. Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, prior to every major international meet an Indian athlete has failed dope tests ahead of or during the meet itself.
The Olympics, especially during the Cold War-era, was termed a “War without weapons”. The veritable death knell of idealism in the Olympics came when the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was telecast live to the world for the first time ever. Since then, the Olympics have become an outlet for projecting ideological superiority and an expression of nationalism.
This was evident in the controversy regarding Russia’s participation in the 2016 Olympics. At one stage it seemed Russia would be banned as it was found that a state-supported doping programme existed there from 2011 to 2015. Several officials and famous athletes like Usain Bolt and Greg Rutherford supported the ban as it would be a strong deterrent to athletes who defiantly cheated on the playing fields.
However, in the International Olympic Committee meeting on July 24, president Thomas Bach took the decision not to bar Russian athletes outright from the Rio Games, despite overwhelming evidence of state-sponsored doping. The IOC did not want indiscriminate disqualification of athletes who have had a clean doping history.
Instead, the IOC gave international sports federations the power to decide which Russian athletes are clean and can participate. Russia’s Olympic hopes received a boost when the governing bodies of judo and shooting approved the eligibility of all their athletes. Russia is also allowed to compete in archery, badminton, equestrian, fencing, tennis, modern pentathlon and sailing. The International Canoe Federation has banned some Russian canoeists, but has not issued a total ban. In track and field athletics, Russia will, however, field a depleted squad and will miss twice-Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. So far, over 100 Russians from their 387 strong contingent have been banned from going to Rio. Russian President Vladmir Putin has hinted that it is discrimination by the Western. He may be partially right, as several American athletes, such as the late Florence Griffith Joyner, Marion Jones, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin were banned over doping.
The USA, piqued at being ousted by the erstwhile USSR and East Germany at the top of the medals tally in the 1972 Munich and 1976 Montreal Olympics, introduced Star Wars technology to regain glory in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and got medals in cycl-ing, volleyball, judo, wrestling and gymnastics in which they were mediocre earlier. At the secretive Colorado Springs centre, there was an unprecedented unification of sports, science and money as the USA prepared to show the world that Capitalism was superior to Communism.
The other side of the Olympic medal is often either ultra modern technology or sometimes state-sponsored doping, that is the sad legacy of a movement which started to promote idealism and harmony among the youth of the world.
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The writer is a senior sports commentator and writer...