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December 6, 2006

The drugged cricketer

WADA: less hectoring, more supervision, better evidence

Kamran Abbasi

Thank you all for a tremendoud debate on this important issue. Understandably it has sharply divided opinion. It will continue to do so.

Some of you are disappointed and angry by my claim that justice has been done. My interpretation of justice is that it has two elements. First, a due process. Second, a just outcome arising from that due process. In this case, the process involved setting a board policy, educating players, monitoring their drug status, and then hearing both sides of the argument at the first tribunal. Each stage of that process was flawed (see entries in 'The drugged cricketer' category). That taken with the scientific problems with ascribing causation to the presence of nandrolone in urine (a situation that I believe is a major problem for WADA and one that it owes it to the world's premier athletes to resolve) and the players' insistence that they did not take nandrolone are sufficient reasons to give the players the benefit of the doubt.

In any organisation people look to blame those below them. It is a major failing of WADA's stance. Whatever the circumstances, the ultimate blame lies with the cricketers or athletes or tennis players, says WADA. This simplistic and idealistic view takes no account of ground realitites such as the education of sportspeople, the support they receive from their governing body, or the drug and product licensing and validation regulations in each country. A rigid policy does not even contemplate the doubts about scientific evidence. It for these reasons that sportspeople have been able to argue, with the support of lawyers, that they are innocent. WADA needs to understand that in the world of medicine and science certainty is a preciously rare commodity.

Let's take the example of medicines and other herbal products in the world's poorer countries, some of which happen to be big players in the world of cricket. The World Health Organization has a major concern over the licensing and manufacture of medicines in poorer countries. Globally, ten per cent of drugs are thought to be fake with far higher percentages in poorer countries. There are international guidelines but these countries do not have the infrastructure or the financial resources to implement them.

In short, you can't be sure that even blockbuster international drugs are real. What hope do you have when you consider supplements and herbal products, which are even less stringently regulated? There is a wealth of research evidence to support this argument.

Another example that springs to mind is a research paper that we published when I was at the BMJ. The researchers analysed several chinese herbal products and found that just under 80% of them contained a steroid that was a prescription only drug in the UK and should not have been an ingredient without proper approval. There was certainly nothing on the labelling to suggest that the products contained a steroid. If this can (and does) happen in the UK, what hope for countries like India and Pakistan?

The simple point is that it is entirely plausible that a supplement taken in all innocence could contain a banned substance.

These facts taken together could be a recipe for despair but it won't be if we focus on systems and make them optimal. The PCB's system for player education and drug monitoring has been shown to be inadequate, possibly pathetic. Who at the PCB will take responsibility for that failure of management and leadership?

The ICC is supposed to be responsible for the conduct of its cricket boards and standardisation of procedures. You might have imagined that the ICC would have got its house in order after the Shane Warne diuretic controversy (an innocent attempt at weight loss or an attempt to mask more serious illicit drug use?). Who at the ICC will take responsibility for this failure of management and leadership?

Finally, what's the point of WADA if it cannot ensure that its signatories follow proper procedures and maintain standards. We hear a great deal of hectoring from WADA but what about hearing more about its attempts at supervision of governing bodies? What about hearing more about its efforts to improve our understanding of how performance-enhancing drugs are abused, metabolised, and identified? What about hearing more about efforts to assist countries that might not have the infratructure or the financial resources to develop watertight systems on their own? Who at WADA will take responsibility for these failure of managemenet and leadership?

Yes, of course, despite all these system failures the players may have taken performance-enhancing drugs deliberately. To believe that to be impossible would be foolhardy. But this is exactly why there has to be due process from beginning to end, a system that sportsmen and sportswomen will trust. Only then can you implement a zero-tolerance policy. Only then can you ruin people's careers and destroy their reputations. Some sports have got their houses in order. Cricket clearly has not.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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Keywords: Drugs

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Posted by Haris Ahmed on (December 20, 2006, 6:35 GMT)

I feel that Shoaib Ahktar is on drugs still and pakistan felt sorry for their decision as they did not have a strong wicket taker. Naveed ul hasan is an exception. Gul is simply a bowler who resides on the batsman to make a mistake rather than him making a great ball. Although he has the best line and length in the squad. I feel that Asif and Akhtar and Hasan should be left in the attack. Afridi should be banned. HE SUX

Posted by Dawar on (December 13, 2006, 17:50 GMT)

We lost in Multan. I do not understand double standard of the management, selection committee or Captain who ever making below decisions.

From last few series A. Razzak, Kamran Akmal & Shoaib Malik is not performing well. But they are still part of our national team. On other hand before multan one day we did not select out of form players Shahid Afridi and Mohd. Sami. Other day Inzamam on TV interview mentioned that this is a part of their policy to send out of form players to the first class cricket. Once they will recover their form we will call them.

Why this policy is not applying on current out of form players such as A Razzak, Shoaib Malik & Kamran Akmal.

Please also note: Few series back we also took out in form palyers from our national team, such as Asim Kamal who always performed well in his short career, Faisal Iqbal just after scoring 58 not out in England test, he was out in next test. Captain also ignored Yasir Hamid.

I think we should keep Afridi instead of Shoaib Malik and Faisal Iqbal instaed of A. Razak.

Dawar LA, USA

Posted by sayfullah on (December 13, 2006, 5:50 GMT)

shoaib will win the world cup for paks so everyone else shut up and watch

Posted by King0fHearts on (December 12, 2006, 23:26 GMT)

There are many reasons for what i think that decision of over turning Ban on Asif and Shoaib were correct. The important one is that PCB should be held responsible for teaching the players about WADA Policies. And secondly, Cricket is a game which is not very much effected by taking drugs. You cannot enhance your line and length or your batting technique by drugs. It can effect your fitness but it certainly does not matter that much. I hope ICC and WADA get their sticks on PCB but not the players. ICC and PCB should get their acts right before asking players to do so.

and - do whatever to get good cricket.

Posted by nasir on (December 12, 2006, 21:20 GMT)

I think whether shoaib and asif took the drugs knowingly or unknowlingly, they should be prevented from taking part in any competitive cricket match to ensure fairness. How can they be allowed to compete in matches despite having performance enhancing drugs in their system.

To maintain fairness, PCB should have cleared the players of guilt but prevented them from playing until their urine samples turned up clear.

Posted by Amin-ur Rehman on (December 12, 2006, 17:25 GMT)

I have gone through nice commentary on this issue.Kamran Abbassi is wonderful in analysis of issues.Let me add something to the real issue. After aquital of both the players by the Review Commission, WADA and ICC are trying to show their muscles. WADA has shown an intent to appeal against the decision and ICC with a bold double face has condemned the revised decision,whereas, they had appreciated the first decision becuase it suited all the CRICKET POWERS(Australia,England,NewZealand,SouthAfrica). ICC is making heck of money from everything, rights,fee etc. but would anyone educate me on one thing? Has ICC ever thought anything about the current players who are giving their blood to the game?Has ICC any medical board to help the fast degenerating players due to rigours of fast paced game(20-20 the latest format adopted to drain the players)? ICC will come up with the explanation that its the responsibility of respective Boards. Very True then why we have a regulator in the shape of ICC? Both WADA and ICC are just good for nothing as far as doping issues are concerned.Can you please provide me the diet program of any of Australian,English, New Zealander or SouthAfrican fast bowlers? How much ICC has invested in eduction of players and their training? Sorry the reply would be a Big NO.ICC needs to put its house in order.Cricket is no more a gentlemen game or a white's game, now its a game of POWER PLAY and powerful win it. Sir, can u provide me the diet and training schedule of Mr.Brett Lee, Mr.McGrath,Mr.Pollock? Whenever some bowler from sub-continent threatens their rankings he is in trouble why? If Mr.Lee can be seen chucking with naked eye why the super slowmo cams cant pick him? Look at the action of Mr.Pollock? What the hell Mr.Nell keeps on doing on the field withe batsmen? Is it a gentlemen game now? No Sir, you are playing for your country and you have to win whether you abuse the opponents like Australians or South Africans. MrBoycott is on record to say that all time biggest sledger is McGrath then why he has not received a single warning from any umpire? All the Australians were united behind Mr.Darrell Hair (less) umpire after what he did to crciket in England. What if Mr.Asad Rauf or Mr.Aleem Dar would have done the same? The topic is open to comments please but eductae me as well on my confusions?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the international editor of the British Medical Journal. @KamranAbbasi

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