THRISSUR: It was the best of times and the worst of times! Charles Dickens may have well been talking about the state of weightlifting in post-millennial India. While few athletes have brought glory to the country as its lifters have, an equally scarce number have brought as much shame. But bouyed by its ‘clean’ showing at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, the Indian Weightlifting Federation hopes to use the National Games to prove the sport is off dope once and for all!
Only the brave would dare dispute there was a time when Indian weightlifting was synonymous with doping. The nadir of 2006, when India was suspended from international competitions forcing them to miss the Doha Asian Games, is still fresh in memory, while the embarrassment of 2010 when the country’s wrestling body had to pay a hefty sum to its parent body, just to compete in the 2010 Commonwealth Games was a wake-up call. An RTI filed last year revealed 92 lifters had failed doping tests since 2009.
Former national coach Pal Singh Sandhu has been through the best and worst of Indian weightlifting. He was awarded the Dronacharya in 1997 after a string of impressive showings by his wards, only to be caught up in the doping controversy of 2004 with Belarusian coach Leonid Taranenko. Now the director of competitions at the Games, Sandhu minces no words. “These foreign coaches were all looking for quick results. They came, handpicked a few lifters and gave them drugs. Look at Bulgaria, a few years ago there were a lot of Bulgarian coaches working across the world. Now you can hardly find any.”
Sandhu says the 2010 incident served as wake-up call. “After that, the IWF began conducting dope tests at every level, be it sub-junior, junior or university games. Earlier, there used to be no tests. As a result, we now have a generation of lifters who are clean, yet capable of winning at the biggest level. The era of drug addicts is over,” he proclaims.
Pravin Vyvhari, coach of the Maharashtra team at the Games, concedes current measures have eliminated doping to a large extent, but adds dope cheats are getting smarter all the time. “Thanks to the heavy testing that the IWF and National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) are doing, it is difficult for dope cheats. But as a result, those who do try to cheat are smarter. There are some drugs which are allowed if prescribed by a doctor for certain medical conditions. Some just turn up with fake medical certificates,” he says.