A Dope Test, irrespective of its eventual outcome, inevitably spells trouble for sportspersons playing at any level. I remember feeling a bit edgy when the first time anti-doping officers were to visit a club I was playing for in Holland. All kinds of questions started doing the rounds - will they test everyone? Is it okay if I had alcohol last night? So on and so forth. Even though some smarter cricketers tried their hand at answering these rather tricky questions, they too were way off the mark. Nobody really knew what the procedure of a drug test was and what the banned substances were. In fact, that was the first time I'd heard about this mandatory test and its damaging repercussions. I was 23 then, having played a few seasons of first-class cricket in India. But, never had any authority or coach cared to share the importance of a Dope Test with any of us.
While the surprise visit by the officers did raise the alarm bells with regards to both the drug menace and my lack of knowledge on the issue, it was conveniently forgotten the moment I landed in India. Since cricket in Holland like England and Australia is funded by the government, it fell under the purview of WADA. But, that wasn't the case in India. Hence, once again and due to complete apathy, it wasn't considered important enough to educate our cricket clan. So ignorant we were on the subject, that one actually believed that alcohol was a banned substance, and that teetotallers had nothing to worry about.
These misconceptions were quashed when I played for India in 2003. But once again the session was conducted by the team physiotherapist and not by a team of doctors, which revolved around the right way of testing, players' rights during the test and above all informing or asking the physiotherapist before taking any medicine. Even though, the management did well in organising a session, it did little in providing an all-inclusive education on Doping. All it conveyed was a warning.
While I played for India, it was easy to consult the team physiotherapist every time I needed medication, but it became impossible to know if I was popping the right pills for common-cold and pain once I got out of the loop. I missed an organised body that would take the initiative to educate and guide vulnerable players like me, since the responsibility of ensuring that nothing that we put into our body violated the anti-doping rule rested upon us.
The issue has today become precarious with the fad of spending hours at the gym to develop well toned bodies with the help of some essential supplements. The trainers, as ignorant as their client, encourage them to take medicines for recovery, weight loss and to build muscle mass. Working out in the gym and consuming the required supplements help you achieve the goal of a perfect body but also put you at a risk of testing positive and bringing shame to the country. Even though Cricket, as compared to other sports, is skill specific and does not require a drug to enhance performance, at least not batting, a few rare cases in the past, especially from Pakistan did send shock waves through the Cricketing World. These guys have been serial offenders, and hence their case cannot be pardoned on the basis of ignorance. Even then, spreading more and more awareness is perhaps the only way to deal with the perils of Doping. In a timely move, BCCI has started a program to address this issue by putting together a team of doctors and experts who visit cricket associations throughout the country and address cricketers of all age-groups. They not only conduct a lengthy session but also give written information on the list of banned drugs. So, the player is only required to consult that little handbook before taking a medicine. And it's not just restricted to the players as even the coaches and trainers are included in these seminars.
The reason an athlete craves for top honors is to find an identity, become a name to reckon with, but if he loses that very identity in the bargain, to a shameful controversy, chances are he/she might think twice before risking it. It's this wisdom, if carefully imparted, which would bring a change in the present scenario.