Safe and insecure

Indian cricket captain M S Dhoni and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh gave some anxious moments to the police in Chandigarh when they left the team hotel without informing them.

Yuvraj Singh also went out declining an offer to have security personnel with him on Sunday night.

Police said they were not amused at the “irresponsible action” of the players and have prepared a report about the “security violations” made by them.

From this story. Does it strike you as fairly asinine behavior from players who argue the ‘security’ case when it comes to complying with WADA’s testing policies?

WADA returns

WADA president John Fahey says the body will not make any exceptions for India.

“We’ve taken it up with the appropriate Indian authorities and made a request to see if the Indian government supports the stand taken by the BCCI,” John Fahey, the WADA president, said. “There has been some exchange of correspondence but we haven’t got anything conclusive. But when we do receive an official response from the Indian government, we are quite prepared to disclose that view in whatever form that takes.”

What wouldn’t I give for a peek at that letter. No, not the contents, the address. Just who is the ‘appropriate Indian authority in this case — Suresh Kalmadi and the Indian Olympic Association? What fun.

More WADAs here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Right — I’m off for the weekend, see you guys Monday.

Contrarian view

WADA is proving to be the gift that goes on giving. Here’s Mukul Kesavan, driving the argument straight down the middle of the road.

But it isn’t quite as simple as that. Cricket isn’t the only sport that has resisted WADA’s increasingly stringent testing regimes. In March this year, football’s two most powerful bodies, UEFA and FIFA, rejected WADA’s new code and asked the organisation to reconsider its rules given the special nature of team sport. Football’s administrators argued that there was a basic difference between the individual athlete who trained privately, on his own, and footballers who trained collectively six days a week and were easy to locate. Like the BCCI, they asked for an exemption for players for the off-season “…in order to respect their private lives”.

Towards the end of April, WADA and FIFA were reported to have resolved their differences, with FIFA’s president offering full compliance with WADA’s regulations. FIFA’s English affiliate couldn’t have got the message because in early August the Guardian reported that the FA was successfully resisting WADA’s plan to test its elite international players. UK Sport, acting on behalf of WADA, had settled for elite women players and junior players. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, was pressing for “high-risk categories”, namely injured players, to be target-tested, not leading international players. This sounds remarkably as if FIFA and the English FA are asking for exemptions for their male internationals and offering their women, children and wounded as substitutes.

And it isn’t only football: the administrators of team sports like basketball, ice hockey and volleyball have all asked for clarifications. The BCCI is a soft target: a recent opinion piece on Cricinfo mocked as nonsensical the BCCI’s invocation of the Indian constitution’s guarantee of privacy. It’s useful to note that the BBC news site reported earlier this year that “[…] sixty-five Belgian sportspeople have launched a legal challenge claiming that the intrusive nature of the WADA code breaks European Union privacy laws”. If Yuvraj Singh’s objections to the WADA code seem ludicrous because he’s widely seen as one of a bunch of indulged Indian cricketers, we might attend to Rafael Nadal’s objection to the new code, or that of Andy Murray, who said : “[…] these new rules are so draconian that it makes it almost impossible to live a normal life”. According to the BBC, “[…] the British Athletics Commission (BAC) chief executive warned that the tougher regulations meant a number of British athletes would retire if they missed two tests rather than risk the possibility of a ban and the subsequent suspicion if they were absent on a third occasion”.

Normal service — the question of why the BCCI has to play spoiler — resumes with Anand Vasu on his blog.

But what exactly is the problem? Sportsmen around the world have signed on and although they complain about the tediousness of the exercise all just grit their teeth and get on with it. Just when the International Cricket Council thought they were doing the decent thing, adopting a globally accepted norm, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said “thanks, but no thanks.”

Just why does the BCCI have to get involved? Why do they have to roadblock pretty much anything the ICC comes up with, and to add insult to injury then call the apex governing body toothless? It’s a bit like asking why Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mt Everest. Simply because it was there to be done and he could do it.

Can India’s players really be complaining about having to pee in a bottle when WADA’s marshals come calling? And even so, since when does the BCCI back the players when they want something? Usually when the board gets its hands dirty there’s either money or power involved. In this case there are no millions to be made, but certainly there’s power to be lost.

WADA update

Suresh Menon calls the face-off a ‘heart versus head’ issue and in this piece, attempts to balance those conflicting pulls.

SportsMagIndia — a site worth following for the occasional, well-reasoned posts on off-ball topics like marketing [read this earlier piece on the problems of Kashmiri bat manufacturers, for instance] — is all ‘head’ in its approach to the issue:

Regardless of the stature of sportspersons involved, if someone has an issue with their constitutional rights being infringed, then they do have a right to protest and ask for legally valid rules and regulations to be framed by governing bodies.

Interestingly, the two issues raised above present administrators and sportspersons with diametrically opposite constitutional law challenges (i.e. one regarding a player’s right to freedom of speech and expression, and the other regarding a player’s right to privacy). It would be fascinating to see how courts and administrative bodies across the world respond to these new challenges presented by sport!

Bingo, I’d say. Much continues to be made [vide Boria Majumdar in BBC] of the number of countries [191] and sports organizations [571] that have signed up for the WADA code; and of the plethora of big names that have accepted the code [Federer! Bolt!! Abhinav Bindra!!!].

The thing though is, bad law doesn’t become good law simply because a number of people accept rather than question it.

In passing: WADA says all this is designed as a deterrent. The players in the testing pool will never know when they are going to be tested, hence they will be forced to stay clean 24/7.

Here’s the Indian list: Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, M.S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Munaf Patel, Virender Sehwag, Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj.

And here’s my question: does it follow that there is no pressure, no compulsion, on the others in both the men’s and women’s teams? That they can do what they like during the off season and clean themselves up just before competition?

Clearly, that is not WADA’s intent — but by naming a testing pool, all that the doping body is doing is telegraphing its punches; whether this meets the stated objective however is a question I have reservations about.

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.