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October 17, 2006
The doping sensation in world cricket has brought back memories of when drug testing was first introduced during the 2003 World Cup. This was to be the first time international cricketers would be officially tested during competition for any prohibited substances and/or methods as listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This list is exactly the same that Olympic athletes are subjected to.
Cricket, being a game of skill primarily, does not immediately seem to be a sport that would benefit from performance-enhancing substances. However, the rapidly increasing pace and intensity of the game as well as the high volume of matches could perhaps provide temptation to use substances that could help with recovery, rapid return from injury and/or improve performance.
Anabolic steroids - for example, nandrolone - significantly promote protein synthesis in the body, an action that increases muscle mass, and hence physical performance, but also cellular repair following injury. Whether inadvertently or knowingly, taking such substances are deemed to provide an unfair advantage to the sportsman.
As medico for the Indian team at that time, it was essential that this recent sensation involving Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif did not occur to any of my players.
I hate to think of the consequences if a senior player tested positive due to some oversight on my behalf. Both of our careers would have been history. Although I knew that none of the players were knowingly using any banned substances, we did use a lot of other nutritional supplementation.
We carried out an internal dope test in the same way that the Pakistan Cricket Board recently did. Luckily 100 % of the players passed even whilst continuing to take their usual diet supplementation and/or ayurvedic medications.
If any had returned a positive test, we would have been facing a similar controversy the PCB faces today.
I was once apparently suspected/accused of providing illegal substances to the Indian team. Looking back, I can laugh at the attention it received. All it did was give a lot of free marketing to the products being used by the players.
At this time, their diets were inadequate and with all the travelling, constant changing of hotels, and 'party food' they were being served, it was justifiable to supplement their diets with commercially available and well-tested products. But I can see why it may have looked strange.
Despite this, the WADA recommends that sportspeople use supplements at their own risk since 'tainting' could still occur during the manufacturing process. It really is a controversial area but ultimately when a positive dope result occurs then the accountability ultimately has to rest with the consumer.
Sportsmen who make a conscious decision to involve themselves in taking banned substances, regardless of the perceived reason, thoroughly deserve the fate that befalls them, if caught.
Andrew Leipus was the Indian team's physio from 1999 to 2004.
This article first appeared in Mid Day, October 17, 2006
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