The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA)’s in-competition urine sample collection last week to check the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes during Delhi State Athletics Championships at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium exposed the underbelly of athletics in the region as a large number of prospective medallists ran away to avoid the NADA team.
As several athletes sprinted away from the venue to avoid NADA’s scrutiny, including the 2021 Under-16 100m champion, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for athletes on the fringes.
A promising 17-year-old sprinter from Rohini, Amaty Sharma, got a chance to win a medal in his age group because his rivals didn’t turn up allegedly fearing NADA officials.
“I was surprised to see two finalists disappear before the start of the boys’ under-18 100m final,” Sharma said.
“Even those who were competing with me weren’t pushing hard to win a medal.”
Sharma went on to win 100m gold. His first in as many as four years of hard training.
“I’m thankful to NADA for the surprise check at the state competition,” added the young sprinter.
Since NADA officials were collecting samples of medal winners, many skipped the meet, while several underperformed.
The most glaring scene during the state meet was in the men’s 100m race. Of the eight finalists, only one athlete Lalit Kumar stepped on the track.
According to the official record of the Delhi State Athletics unit, Jai Baisoya, Nisar Ahmad, Shivam Meena, Raja Babu Alam, Aashish Kandari, Shivam Vashnav and Gagan Yadav didn’t start in the men’s 100m dash.
Four sprinters competed in the men’s 200m and were classified in results after two of the finalists didn’t start and one didn’t finish.
Winning top two positions at the annual state athletics meet is a passport to competing in the north zone and junior national athletics meetings. Those who failed to figure among top two in the 2023 edition of the state meet will have to wait until the 2024 edition of state competition to try their luck.
Sharma had been training for almost four years now. He excelled at the CBSE national athletics competition, but has never won a medal at the Delhi State Athletics Meet.
“I feel cheated,” he exclaimed.
The 2023 edition was different.
Use of performance-enhancing drugs, banned by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is an open secret at the grassroots level.
“But no concrete action is taken against the culprits,” said the school-going student from Rohini.
“I generally get knocked out in the semis. Even if I reach the final. I see others gliding past me while I’m trying hard.”
Since a large number of prospective medallists skipped the 2023 edition of Delhi State Athletics Meeting, Delhi team at the upcoming north zone or junior national meeting will comprise new faces.
“Several athletes on the fringes will get a big opportunity to showcase their potential in the upcoming competitions this year,” said athletics coach and Dronacharya Awardee Satyapal Singh.
Exodus was not confined to sprinting. Doping cast its ugly shadow over the entire state competition.
A 21-year-old college going handicap thrower, Varsha Gulia, won third position in women’s shot put event.
“My daughter could win bronze as throwers having a personal best of 17m didn’t turn up for the medal round,” said Suman Lata, Varsha’s mother.
Since Varsha has hearing impairment, she is accompanied by her mother to the JNS for practice.
For Varsha’s mother, who has been a regular to Nehru Stadium for the past four years, using disposable syringes in the women’s washroom of the stadium is a common feature.
“Use of syringes by young athletes is not a healthy trend,” said Suman Lata.
“I hope NADA will come regularly for surprise checks during practice in future.”
Delhi’s international 400m sprinter Ritika Negi too echoed views similar to Suman Lata.
“Used disposable syringes are a common sight in the women’s washroom at the Nehru Stadium. I don’t know why no action is being taken by the NADA office which is within walking distance of the washroom,” said Ritika.
“Use of syringes without a medical prescription is dangerous.”
Ritika, who has been a regular at the Nehru Stadium, said that NADA dope testing officials hardly come to state competitions.
The last time NADA officials came to collect urine samples of the competitors to check use of banned substances to prop up performance during the state meet was in 2019.
“That time also, several athletes ran away. No action was taken against the athletes or coaches,” added Ritika.
Ritika, who was one of the members of the national women’s 4x400m relay team at the 2018 World U20 Athletics Championships held in Finland said, “It’s very discouraging to see athletes from nowhere come and win medals; that too with an outstanding performance. I’ve seen [honest] promising athletes [get discouraged] and change their events as they are not able to win in their choice of event.”
Ritika said she was surprised to see at least two athletes skipping the women’s 200m final.
“Those who competed didn’t perform well. One of the athletes clocked a faster time in 200m heats. I was expecting a good time in the final, but she was quite slow and finished outside the medal bracket in the final,” said Ritika of her observation.
Nehru Stadium is considered the hub of athletics in the region. There is one odd Sports Authority of India (SAI) athletics coach, but as many as 20 private coaches can be seen giving coaching to athletes. Some former national level athletes are also into the coaching business.
Encouraging and discreetly selling performance drugs is also a common feature at Nehru Stadium. Disposal syringes and used vials of foreign make are generally strewn all over the stadium. The housekeeping staff too have a challenging task to clean the washrooms as drains get choked.
“To further check the menace of doping at the grassroots level, NADA officials should randomly visit the playground,” a SAI official said on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.