If the Indian Wrestling Federation wants to keep wrestler Narsingh Yadav's Olympic dream alive, it should learn from Salman Khan.
Only by resorting to the machinations Khan has perfected to win legal battles can Yadav be given an outside chance of winning a medal at the Rio Games.
Before we look at the Salman Khan angle in Yadav's story, let us travel back in time to the history of steroids in sports, especially Olympics.
Story of Steroids
Doping burst into public discourse after the ''dirtiest race'' in world history. Since then, all its proponents have come up with the same dumb excuse: I didn't do it, someone set me up.
The dirtiest race in sport history was the 100 metre dash for gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. That day the bitter rivalry between Carl Lewis, derided as "Flying F*ggot" by his critics, and Ben Johnson was settled within 9.79 seconds when the Canadian sprinter burst out of the blocks, thrust his arm upwards, raised his finger and stunned his US rival into submission.
Or, so it seemed.
A few days later, Johnson was stripped of his gold medal after testing for stanozolol steroid. The Canadian sprinter first confessed to his crime immediately. "How can I lose something that didn't even belong to me," he ruminated when the medal was taken from him. He later said he was using steroids since 1987.
But, Johnson didn't blame himself. He argued that he had been pumping stanozolol into his blood under the impression that he was using some other steroid that was not banned. "I wanted to be at par with others," Johnson claimed, blaming a mysterious diamond dealer Andre 'Action' Jackson for setting him up. Later he changed his story again, claiming that somebody has spiked his water with the banned substance.
Since then, the story has remained the same: Athletes get routinely caught for cheating but pass themselves off as innocents nincompoops framed by a vile world. Maria Sharapova, Carl Lewis (in fact six athletes who ran the dirtiest race were caught subsequently), badminton superstar Lee Chon Wei, football wizard Diego Maradona, Lance Armstrong... all of them pleaded innocence after getting caught for cheating.
Crisis in Indian camp
The backstory of doping required recounting because of the mini epidemic sweeping India's Olympic-bound contingent. Stunning stories of athletes flunking doping tests, testing positive for banned substances and then crying conspiracy are breaking every day, pointing at the mess in Indian sport.
Three days ago, wrestler Narsingh Yadav's B sample — two failed tests lead to disqualification or ban — returned positive for a banned drug. Shot putter Inderjeet Singh, another important member of the Olympic squad, failed the first test. Both have claimed innocence, arguing they were framed by rivals.
Both Yadav and Singh are India's medal hopes. But, their stories are different. While prima facie Singh appears to be lying, Yadav's case may have some merit.
Shot putter Singh, as the Hindustan Times points out, had been behaving mysteriously for quite some time. Singh was shying away from sharing training and residential details with the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA), the body responsible for testing athletes for drug violations since January, HT reported. He has reportedly been caught with traces of a masking agent in his first sample.
Yadav's "I've been framed" story, though, has acquired a sinister undertone. Till 5 June, Yadav was completely clean. His blood and urine samples taken in the first week of June did not have a trace of any banned drug. But, when he was tested again on 25 June, his urine sample had methandienone in it.
Yadav, a victim of conspiracy?
Experts argue Yadav, who had never failed a drug test before this or evaded one, couldn't have been so daft to take a drug that has been banned for ages just before the Olympics. Metadienone is an anabolic steroid that used to be in circulation among athletes three decades ago. These days athletes use drugs that are difficult to trace, sometimes they use masking agents to hide their detection.
Yadav and wrestling federation officials claim there is a conspiracy to get Yadav banned. According to the Indian Express, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh has alleged that there was an attempt last month to add an “unknown substance” to food prepared at the Sports Authority of India’s Sonepat centre.
WFI chief Singh said that Narsingh, in his written complaint, has named a fellow wrestler, a coach and the SAI official in charge of the Sonepat centre, and accused the trio of conspiring against him, leading to the failed dope test. “We won’t be naming anyone right now since the case is still being heard by NADA,” Singh said.
Experts cite stories of inter-akhara rivalry and internecine enmity within wrestlers as possible causes of an alleged sabotage. Since Yadav had been included in the squad ahead of wrestling superstar Sushil Kumar, theories of a Haryana-Mumbai rivalry being at the root of the controversy abound.
Bhai and the escape clause
So, how can Salman Khan help?
A clause in the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) rules says that an athlete can be cleared of doping charges if it is conclusively proved that someone else spiked his food or drink with a banned drink.
Rule 10.4 in WADA’s 2016 Code reads: “If an athlete or other person establishes in an individual case that he or she bears no fault or negligence, then the otherwise applicable period of ineligibility shall be eliminated. They will only apply in exceptional circumstances, for example, where an athlete could prove that, despite all due care, he or she was sabotaged by a competitor.”
Salman Khan, as we all know, is the champion of the art of deflecting blame. Past year, he had successfully proved in a court that someone else was driving a car that ran over pavement dwellers in Mumbai. On Monday, he was let off by the Rajasthan court after establishing that someone else was behind the killing of endangered species, the crime he was accused of 18 years ago.
This is not to compare a real wrestler like Yadav with the reel-wrestler Salman. But just to argue, desperate times call for desperate measures. And that all inspiration for a noble cause, even if it comes from a fallen hero, should be welcome.