On the face of it, the National Anti-Doping Agency's (NADA) verdict that exonerated wrestler Narsingh Yadav of intentional doping is a decision to celebrate. It meant one of India's best wrestlers was clean and could still complete at the Rio Olympics this month provided the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also clears him (they are reviewing his case) and he passes another drug test.
But exonerating Narsingh sends a darker message about the state of Indian sport. To find Narsingh innocent, NADA had to accept his argument that his food or water was spiked by a third party and that there was a conspiracy against him to prevent him from going to the Games.
Let's think about that for a minute. A person or group of people within the wrestling community actively tried to prevent an Indian athlete, who had genuinely qualified, from going to the Olympics, and did so by means of sabotage.
Worse still, this was no isolated incident. According to a story in The Indian Express, "Yogeshwar Dutt refuses to eat in the common kitchen of the SAI Sonepat centre, where trained with Narsingh. A trusted man cooks his food and his supplies are guarded round the clock. 'The higher you rise, the more enemies you make,' explains Yogeshwar simply."
As if dealing with poor administration, a regular lack of funds, outdated equipment and facilities and relentless politicking wasn't enough, it seems our wrestlers are supposed to be spies too, making sure their food is secure and equipment watched at all times. And then we wonder why our country doesn't produce sporting champions.
How can it when they have to make sure their supplies are tamper proof and therefore can't focus their attention on training and preparation? As Narsingh said in his defence, "If he was expected to guard his water in a 'secure environment', then how was he expected to train for the Olympics?"
It is a state of affairs seemingly out of a bad spy novel.
Looked at from this point of view, the NADA verdict is a more severe indictment of Indian sport than finding Narsingh guilty would have been. If a single athlete dopes, the system is not necessarily at fault. But here the entire system seems to conspire against those who wish to rise the top, depending, of course, in that age-old Indian tradition, on how well connected they are to the levers of power.
How else to explain why Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) vice-president Raj Singh filed a false affidavit in court claiming that as head coach, he had conducted trials in the 48-kilogram class in Greco Roman prior to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta? It turns out that no such trials were held but the affidavit had already been used as evidence by Sushil Kumar when he took the WFI to court for picking Narsingh in the 74-kg category without a trial.
Sushil lost that case, of course, and the Delhi high court is now considering perjury charges against Raj Singh for making false claims.
Sabotage. Perjury. Conspiracy. These are the words Indian sport has been dealing with just days before the start of the Rio Games, when we should have been cheering and celebrating the largest contingent of Olympic athletes to ever leave these shores. Even if Narsingh does clear the remaining hurdles and makes it to the Games, there will be no winners here.
Something is rotten in the state of Indian sports and it is not limited to wrestling either. Tennis, for example, has been dominated by politics and rivalries between players for years now, while in badminton, Jwala Gutta has been outspoken in her belief that Indian head coach P Gopichand — who has his own badminton academy and is on the board of the Indian Badminton League and on the TOPS selection committee — favours players who train with him over those who don't.
Meanwhile, the boxing federation hasn't existed for years while the basketball federation is mired in a bitter political conflict in which one side stopped players from going for national trials in order to delegitimise the other side that was conducting them. The impact on the sport in all these cases just happened to be of secondary importance.
Last month, the Supreme Court finally forced the BCCI to reform and professionalise. It was a big win for Indian cricket but the rest of Indian sport desperately needs reforming too. If India is ever to be counted among the great sporting nations of the world, merit has to be the predominant criteria in selecting our athletes. But as with every other aspect of Indian society, politics remains primary. Unless this changes, nothing else will. The Narsingh saga had made that clear.
First Published On : Aug 3, 2016 18:08 IST