What's all the fuss about 'whereabouts' requirements?
What is World Anti Doping Agency (WADA)?
The WADA is based in Lausanne and was set up in 1999 with backing from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to promote and coordinate the fight against doping in sport internationally. It remains the only credible, independent and official anti-doping watchdog and consists of representatives from the Olympic movement and public authorities.
When did the ICC join hands with WADA and why?
The ICC has been conducting anti-doping tests at its events since 2002 but became a signatory of WADA in July 2006. Compliance with WADA norms will enhance cricket's credibility as a world team sport and is a mandatory requirement for participating in global multi-sport competitions like the Asian Games and Olympics. The updated WADA code was unanimously approved last year by the ICC board.
The players are not against anti-doping tests but what is the clause in the amended code that they are unhappy about?
The new code mandates the establishment of an International Registered Testing Pool (IRTP) of players who are nominated for random testing based on their ICC rankings. Players from this pool have to inform the ICC at the beginning of every quarter (three-month period) of the year, a location and time that they will be available for an hour each day in that quarter for testing. If a player changes his/her schedule in between, then he/she needs to update the whereabouts information to the nodal officer either online or even through SMS. However, if the player is not in the location at the time specified, he/she will have a strike recorded against his name. Three such strikes and the player will have breached the code and can face up to a two-year suspension from the game.
Why are cricketers concerned about the WADA's 'whereabouts' clause?
Those in the ICC's testing pool feel that the code infringes on their privacy and personal space, especially during off-season or when they are not playing cricket. They have also raised concerns on a practical level and claim the system has a high risk of catching athletes who are simply not administratively inclined.
But have all international cricketers agreed to abide by the WADA code?
Despite their concerns, yes. Except players from India.
Why have the Indian players not submitted to the code?
There are 11 Indian players in the ICC's IRTP, namely Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Munaf Patel, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj. Apart from privacy and practicality issues, the Indian players, some of whom like Dhoni and Tendulkar, have received security threats from terrorist organisations before, have raised questions about the confidentiality and security risks involved in providing whereabouts information in advance. These concerns have been raised earlier by the Indian players before the ICC, which has attempted to allay those fears through briefing sessions that were conducted for all international players.
What is the ICC's position and how is it planning to address the concerns of Indian players?
The ICC agrees that most of the players' concerns are genuine and hope to take them up with WADA when the norms are reviewed this year-end. Meanwhile, an ICC lawyer will meet BCCI officials and some of the Indian players in the testing pool in Mumbai on Sunday to address their concerns once again. The ICC has proposed various ways forward. It has said that players need not fill up the whereabouts forms themselves but can do so through a nodal official nominated by their home boards. The ICC has also promised that its testing programme will be reasonable and conducted around matches, and not on holidays or when players are on vacation. Besides, only two ICC officials, who will be bound by stringent confidentiality agreements, will have access at any point if time to players' whereabouts.
What will happen if the Indian players continue to refuse to submit to the WADA code?
The ICC cannot let them participate in any match that is organised under its umbrella. The Indian players have already missed the July 31 deadline for filing the whereabouts information for the next quarter and face one 'strike' against their name (see above).
What can the BCCI do in such a situation?
The BCCI will find itself in a difficult position if its players continue to refuse to abide by the code because the Indian board was part of the unanimous ICC resolution last year to adopt these new anti-doping norms. However, BCCI is hoping that it can work out a mutually acceptable solution with the ICC on this issue. One thorny issue that the Indian board confronts is that of penalties for Indian players who have missed the whereabouts information filing deadline. The BCCI is keen that its players should not be punished as it feels their concerns are genuine.
Does the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) support the stand of Indian players?
Indian cricketers are not part of FICA but the international players' association agrees with the concerns expressed by them. However, as other international players have agreed to submit to the new WADA code, the FICA has warned that if the ICC does not penalise India's players for failing to do so, it would ensure that players from all other countries would be relieved from similar obligations.
Do only cricketers have a problem with WADA's requirements?
This is not a cricket-specific issue. It is a concern for a number of other sports, particularly team sports such as football. FIFA, football's governing body, is still not completely WADA-compliant due to similar concerns. FIFA, in fact, has suggested that only players they deem as high-risk be included in the testing pool. Tennis stars such as Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal have also spoken out against the stringent WADA norms, especially the filing of whereabouts information in advance. As of now, this issue is a work in progress. In fact, there is a meeting of world player associations, including FICA, in London in early September with WADA to discuss concerns about the whereabouts requirements for those who participate in team sports.