The government has decided to clean the Augean stables. Well, quite literally. To bring more accountability into equestrian sports, it has decided to acquire dope testing facility in the country for horses. The Delhi-based National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL), a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab to check human samples, would soon start testing urine and blood samples of horses participating in various competitions to check for the possible use of banned drugs.
The NDTL will soon join the league of select labs across the world which will test horse doping samples. The sports ministry sources said NDTL in its last board meeting in January had decided that the method that uses liquid chromatography–a mass spectrometry analysis method—would be obtained. A `2.5-crore machine will be acquired for this purpose. “We intend to start testing in the next few months,” officials told The Sunday Standard.
To make the facility pass the stringent rules, NDTL has acquired accreditation from the Association of Official Racing Chemists, a US-based body. The new testing facility in India will be able to provide services for various horse sporting events that otherwise have to send samples to Dubai, England or Hong Kong-based labs.
Equine sports are not a common man’s game. Patronised by Maharajas, business tycoons and the army, the sport—be it equestrian or racing—raises its celebrity quotient several notches higher than other sporting events.
But the sport has its share of taint too. The Indian equestrian team was withdrawn from the 2010 Asian Games as one of the horses was tested positive for suspected banned substance. The Mumbai racing circuit was hit by a doping scandal in 2011 when six of the top racehorses were tested positive for using Boldenone, an anabolic steroid that enhances performance, in two separate incidents.
The biggest scandal to hit the equestrian sports was during the 2008 Olympics when four horses involved in the show jumping were tested positive for banned substance capsaicin. These were disqualified.
No centralised data is, however, maintained since separate associations get their tests done individually from abroad. As the instances of drug use in equestrian sport go public, pressure has been building on various federations to bring accountability into the system. The popularity of the sport can be gauged from the fact that horse racing takes place in seven venues across the country, the popular venues being Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Kolkata that also have country’s oldest clubs.
There are 34 polo clubs that are affiliated to the Polo Association of India, while the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) holds equestrian sports like show jumping, dressage, endurance and tent-pegging, and sends teams to participate in international competitions. The Indian team won a bronze medal in the 2002 and 2006 Asian Games.
Once samples are tested within the country using the new facility, a comprehensive data on drug misuse will be tabulated, say officials. Under international equestrian rules, all winning horses are to be tested for possible drug use.
“We take samples during all national events and send them to Hong Kong for testing. Samples are taken for every winning horse, the fastest, and randomly of any horse. Currently, the fee is Rs 7,000-8,000 for each sample,” said Colonel Jagat Singh, general secretary, EFI.
He added that before they could send samples to NDTL, it has to be recognised by the FEI (International Equestrian Federation), the international affiliation body for horse sports.
NDTL sources said its scientists recently received training from the Institute of Biochemistry, Cologne, Germany, on using the drug analysis to check doping. For equestrian sports, samples of both horse riders and horses are tested for any drug abuse. For horses, performance-enhancing drugs are used to act as either stimulants, muscle relaxants, numbness-inducing or stamina-boosting agents. According to horse veterinarians, some commonly used drugs increase the number of oxygen-carrying red cells in the bloodstream and enhance stamina. Another commonly used concoction are called milk shakes—a baking soda concoction with extra electrolytes improving endurance.