Where will you be September 29, 8 pm?

Sometime in July 2006, the ICC – which, in almost every single instance involving the regulation and governance of the sport it is meant to regulate and govern moves in fits and occasional starts – conducted a ‘survey’ of its full members, in course of which it sought details of each country’s drug-education program.

This, it needs noting, was as a result not of the ICC’s own desire to ensure it presided over a clean game, but because the players association pushed for it.

Some responses were collected – but the ICC admitted that not all the ten member nations had complied. To add to the fun, the ICC refused to hand over to the players’ body the submissions from some of the member nations.

Typically the ICC – a firm votary of cosmetics – produced an ‘educational DVD’ which, it announced, would be presented to the players during the Champions Trophy of later that year, as though the DVD were some kind of award handed out to participants.

Ironically, it was in October 2006, at the start of the Champions Trophy – and before the DVDs were handed out – that Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akthar tested positive for nandrolone [did I mention Pakistan was one of the countries that did not submit the ICC’s ‘survey’?]

A year earlier almost to the day FICA, the professional cricketers’ association, warned that cricketers would be increasingly tempted to use prohibited substances to aid recovery. The response was a howl of outrage from then ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed. I found this quote while delving through the archives of the time: “Remarks like that serve no purpose in a reasoned debate and do FICA no credit at all.”

Moving on: Asif and Akthar were banned and the bans were as promptly reversed, with the appellate committee proceedings turning into a smoke and mirrors show of conflicting jurisdictions – were Asif and Akthar culpable under the PCB’s code, or those of the ICC, or WADA’s [note that Pakistan was a signatory to the Copenhagen Agreement]? Ironically, the committee also ruled that the two players had not been “properly educated” about the substances they could and could not use.

The Court of Arbitration told the World Anti-Doping Agency that it couldn’t interfere as it had no jurisdiction in the matter. [The farce prolonged indefinitely, with Akthar hiding out in London and claiming he had no time to pee into a bottle, at least for as long as it took for him to work the drugs out of his system].

A miffed WADA then told the ICC, which had signed on with WADA in 2006, that it was time it got together some kind of acceptable drug code. Yeah, yeah, the ICC said, it had “learnt its lessons” [again, an exact quote, this time from Faisal Hasnain, then active chief executive of the world body.] “We are working hard with our members to ensure a case like this does not happen again.”

Then, and in subsequent months, the ICC repeatedly harped on the ‘facts’ – that it had implemented drug tests at all major events as early as 2002; that till date, no player had tested positive in an ICC competition [True enough – Asif and Akthar tested positive one day before Pakistan’s opening game, and so it could be claimed its competition hadn’t yet begun].

At some point in the tangled history between then and now, the ICC announced that it would become WADA-compliant by 2010, and then as unilaterally brought its own deadline forward by a year, to 2009.

There was all the time in the world for the ICC to create a timeline towards that goal; for the member boards to then sound the players and seek their opinions; for all concerned to sit down and ensure that there was consensus across the board.

None of that happened. With the ICC, that is pretty much the norm – it goes off on its own tack and, thanks to its chronic inability to sit down with the players it supposedly governs or at least to ensure that its member boards do, lands up in messes that could have been easily avoided [remember the earlier furor about ambush marketing?]

Ergo, the unexpected eruption of this latest, and eminently avoidable, fuss.

The BCCI is backing the players on this one – like, what choice did it have? It is also, in a classic case of ditching the baby along with the bathwater, asking the ICC to now walk away from WADA, in the process completely ignoring the fact that India too is a signatory to the Copenhagen Agreement which is a national commitment – and last anyone checked, the BCCI was very much a part of this country and not, as it likes to believe, a nation state all on its own.

Incidentally, in doing this the BCCI [very George Bush-like, this body] is also now repudiating its own signature – the one it affixed to the ICC resolution of 2008 agreeing to become WADA-complaint this year. Trouble was, the BCCI in typically feudal fashion signed on to a commitment involving its players without once bothering to check with them.

The WADA is bleating on about how 571 sporting bodies have accepted the code, so what’s your problem – sort of like our political parties ‘parading their strength’ before the governor/president. And Ian Chappell in a think piece says drug testing is the price players have to pay in order to keep the sport clean.

When WADA worked on the revised code that came into effect January 1 this year, it said the process was transparent, and democratic. “All stakeholders were encouraged to send in their suggestions,” WADA said in an explicatory Q&A on its site.

“No one ever asked us for our opinion,” a senior member of the national team, who has no horse in this race because he falls outside the short-listed 11 players directly impacted, told me this weekend. [I am not naming him at his request — since he is not part of the group of 11, he said, he’d rather not take a public position on the controversy].

If not the players, did the BCCI advance its own thoughts to WADA as a potential stakeholder? “As far as I am aware, no.”

So when the ICC decided unanimously to implement the code this year, did you guys talk to the BCCI about your concerns? “We’ve had no discussions on this subject as far as I know, till very recently.”

Okay, the hell with all that – would you say dope testing is necessary to keep the sport clean? “Yes, naturally – when have our players ever objected to being tested?”

So then why not just sign on – as “571 sporting bodies” already have?

“I’ll answer that,” he told me, “if you can tell me where you will be at 8 pm October 29.”

As this player argued the case, he and his ilk are not opposed to testing. “I saw some media reports where we players are supposed to have argued that it is an invasion of our privacy. We are also supposed to have pointed at security concerns. All of that is true enough, but none of those concerns are really the crux of our problem.”

How, he asked, is a player supposed to provide a comprehensive three month calendar indicating where he will be at every point of every day?

And it is not just that – having sent in the calendar, he cannot deviate an iota, or at least, that is how he understands it. “What, I think I am going to be at a function two months from now – but then someone falls ill and has to be rushed to hospital and I am supposed to remember what I told these drug guys, and send them an SMS altering my whereabouts? And if I fail, and they come to where I am supposed to be and don’t find me, that is a ‘strike’ against my name; three ‘strikes’, and I am suspended? Who dreamt this crap up?”

None of the players are opposed to random testing per se, this player repeatedly pointed out; what they were objecting to is the clumsy, intrusive, methodology. “Look, what’s the issue here? WADA wants to test us without warning? Sure, go ahead, who’s stopping you? Land up out of the blue, call me, ask that I make myself available for testing inside 12 hours, or 24, and if I don’t for reasons that are not valid, then penalize me…”

Seems a fair suggestion to me. You?

PostScript: A Cricinfo fact file that fleshes this out.

PostScript2: In DNA, Vijay Tagore looks at the what next question.

On Sunday evening, the ICC said “The next step is to be considered by the ICC Board.” But he did not indicate when the Board meeting will be held. The next Board meeting is scheduled for mid-October. A BCCI official told DNA that one possible ICC decision could be to ban or suspend the 11 players (under the IRTP) but stated that any such move could result in a disaster for the ICC as the BCCI then may not take part in the forthcoming Champions Trophy.

The implications of a non-India Champions Trophy could be serious for the world body as it had sold its eight-year broadcast rights for over a billion dollars on the promise of an Indian participation. The broadcaster might well sue the ICC.

So where does the impasse head? It is a premature to guess but some thing can be read in the statement of a highly-ranked ICC official who told this paper: “There will not be a Third World War over this issue.”

PS3: Curioser and curioser: Sports Minister KPS Gill argues that India has signed on to the WADA code and all its players mandatorily need to buy in. What is funny is the reasons he gives:

“We have accepted WADA regulatory testing and we adhere to it,” Gill said.

Okay, we’re with you so far.

“Sportspersons should be clear in one thing that it is not getting into someone’s life.”

That makes it clear as mud — saying it’s so don’t make it so, no?

The sports ministry has a WADA-accredited National Dope Testing Laboratory in Delhi and Gill said it was proud to be associated with the global independent anti-doping watchdog.

Nice. So?

“We have set up a dope testing laboratory next to Nehru Stadium and now Sweden is also sending samples of their players for testing.”

At the risk of repeating myself — nice. So?

The hon’ble minister must be wishing he was still DGP circa the Punjab insurgency — where he said something and you either obeyed or got shot.

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6 thoughts on “Where will you be September 29, 8 pm?

  1. Pingback: WADA returns « Smoke Signals

    • Rajeev Shukla is your typical rent a quote merchant, who opens his mouth only to remove the foot that was already there and stick the next one in — to the best of my knowledge, this is not what the players are saying, and it is not even what the BCCI is discussing with ICC. To ask for out of season exemption will kill the entire negotiation dead, and paint the picture of Indian cricketers as people with something to hide.

  2. Nirmal: You could equally assume that a small — financially small — sporting body has more to lose by not being part of a global agreement. If I am not mistaken, footballers rejected this, while leading tennis players panned it though the game itself seems to have brought on

    You could think of benefits: increased lung capacity for instance, permitting longer, harder bursts of sustained quick bowling. Greater body strength also suggests itself. True, though, that unlike say weightlifting, there is no direct quantifiable benefits to be gained by pumping yourself full of steroids.

  3. can we then safely assume that these 571 other sporting bodies also work in a very BCCI-like fashion without caring to involve athletes / sportspersons in their decision making?

    a slight aside, apart from aiding the recovery process, where else would the use of performance enhancing drugs give cricketers an ‘unfair’ advantage over others? The fastest bowler or the strongest hitter doesn’t always come out on top. ground fielding and throwing might gain the most ..

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