India's National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) plans to increase the number of samples it collects and will not hesitate to raid athletes' homes to catch prospective drugs cheats, the organisation's chief told Reuters in an interview.
NADA has been forced to become more proactive as it deals with the latest doping scandal to emerge in India, added to the 122 positive cases reported in an 11-month period starting from May 2010, involving mainly wrestlers and weightlifters.
Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose, two of India's leading 400 metres runners and part of last year's Commonwealth and Asian Games champion relay quartet, were provisionally suspended earlier this week after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
The athletics federation confirmed on Thursday that four lesser-known Indian athletes had also failed dope tests. NADA director-general Rahul Bhatnagar said the agency would do whatever it took to root out the menace of illegal doping.
"I'm worried but not alarmed," Bhatnagar said. "Of course we now have two high-profile cases, which are shocking. "Since NADA was set up two years ago, we have been steadily increasing the number of samples. We collected more than 2,600 last year and plan 3,500 this year. We want to make it 4,500 next year, so that it acts as a deterrent for any athlete contemplating a shortcut to success." Bhatnagar added that if the increase in tests proved unsuccessful then NADA would follow the Australian model of surprise raids to capture would-be cheats. "If the situation continues to worsen, we would consider raids to catch offenders red-handed."
"Australia has done really well to deal with the issue. The anti-doping agency there collaborates with the police to track the source of banned substances, which makes it easier to deal with the issue." Bhatnagar, however, was not sure if there had been a sudden spurt in the number of drugs cheats in India. "In the pre-NADA days, federations conducted result management. At times, they would admonish an athlete who failed a test and close the chapter.
"Since NADA was established, we have started taking more samples and chances are high that the number of positive cases will increase. We have to look at the percentages to give us the true picture. At the moment, four to five percent of cases test positive, which is a concern but not a major crisis."
Bhatnagar said it was almost impossible to distinguish the "ignorant from the cheat" as most of India's athletes come from poor families with a limited education.
"Well, it''s very, very tough to say who is naive and who''s trying to mislead you. They come up with various excuses before the hearing panel and I'm told some are really funny. They invariably claim they have no idea how the illegal substance got into their system. One athlete, who tested positive for an anabolic steroid, claimed it could have been due to an oil massage. But the buck stops with the athlete. We are not dealing with school students but national level athletes, who have reached a certain level, where they are expected to know these things."
Another popular excuse was that the athlete did not know the medicine he or she was taking for an ailment contained a banned substance.
"Even this is not convincing. If they really need such a medicine, they can always apply for Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) certificate," Bhatnagar said.
A TUE certificate means an athlete would be exempted even if he or she tested positive for a banned substance present in that medicine. Bhatnagar suspects some coaches are also culpable.
"Coaches can't escape their responsibility. Every time an athlete is caught, the coach is the first to distance himself or herself. After all, we don't stay with them and can't keep an eye all the time, they say. "In some cases, that's not true. I know there are athletes who swear by their coach and take every word as law."