Is cricket a dop­ing-free zone or has any­one been look­ing hard enough?

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Andy Bull

For all its long, rich his­tory for in­dulging booz­ers and gam­blers and rakes, one vice crick­eters never re­ally seem to have ac­quired is dop­ing. So far as the sport has ever had a prob­lem, it’s been with the drugs that im­pair per­for­mance, rather the ones that en­hance it. Plenty of crick­eters have been caught, and oc­ca­sion­ally even con­fessed to us­ing, cannabis, co­caine, even, in one es­pe­cially recher­ché re­cent case, opium. So far as PEDs go though, there have been a hand­ful of play­ers banned be­cause they’d taken mask­ing agents, usu­ally diet pills or the like, or steroids of one kind or an­other. But al­most no one has ever con­fessed to do­ing it de­lib­er­ately. Cricket, then, would seem to be clean, or as close to it as any mod­ern-day sport gets.

Which, con­versely, al­ready sug­gests that it might be more vul­ner­a­ble than it ap­pears, un­less you be­lieve that crick­eters are im­mune to the temp­ta­tions other sports­peo­ple suc­cumb to. If no one’s be­ing caught, you have to ask how hard any­one’s look­ing. The ICC re­cently stepped up its anti-dop­ing pro­gramme. At the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy ear­lier this year, it started blood test­ing for the first time, a move which was wildly over­due be­cause the urine tests it had been us­ing can’t de­tect hu­man growth hor­mone. The blood test­ing will al­low it to set up a bi­o­log­i­cal pass­port sys­tem, which will al­low it to scan for the ef­fects of dop­ing over time, if not de­tect the sub­stance or method it­self. It’s a leap for­ward for the sport’s anti-dop­ing pro­gramme at the elite level.

Cricket may not have a dop­ing prob­lem right now, but the course of the sport is in a di­rec­tion in which one may well de­velop. For a long time a lot of fans have re­lied on the lazy think­ing that be­cause cricket’s so skill-driven, it’s safe. And of course it’s true that PEDs won’t nec­es­sar­ily help a bats­man hit a cover drive, or a spin­ner turn his goo­gly, just as they can’t help a shot put­ter hone his throw­ing tech­nique or a sprinter im­prove his start. The 101 les­son here is that ath­letes dope for two rea­sons: to make them­selves stronger, and to help them­selves train harder and re­cover quicker.

As T20 con­tin­ues to grow, those very qual­i­ties have be­come more im­por­tant then ever be­fore. There are a lot of crick­eters com­pet­ing for a small num­ber of lu­cra­tive short-term con­tracts, the re­wards are greater, the off-sea­son shorter, and the con­se­quences of in­juries more se­vere. Hu­man Growth Hor­mone can make a huge dif­fer­ence to the amount of time it takes for an ath­lete to re­cover from a mus­cu­loskele­tal in­jury. Some stud­ies have shown that an ath­lete us­ing it can re­cover as much as six-times faster than they would with­out it. Which could eas­ily be the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing out un­til next sea­son, or be­ing back in time for that big match in the knock-out rounds.

At the same time, T20 has put more of an onus on strength and power. Sixes sell. And a player can make them­selves a name, and a lot of money, if they hit them hard enough, of­ten enough. The skills a player needs in T20 are more akin to the set they use in base­ball, a sport which has been strug­gling to con­trol its own dop­ing prob­lem for decades now. And if the ICC has a good grip on anti-dop­ing in its own events, it’s a lot harder to im­ple­ment a con­sis­tent pro­gramme in all those new T20 leagues mush­room­ing around the world. You can get an idea of the dif­fi­cul­ties by look­ing at the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the world’s lead­ing T20 league, the IPL.

There’s a rea­son the is­sue of an­ti­dop­ing is bub­bling up right now. The long-run­ning soap opera at the BCCI has an old plot thread about the board’s anti-dop­ing pro­gramme, which has come cen­tre stage these last few weeks. The board is in dis­pute with In­dia’s De­part­ment of Sports and the Na­tional Anti-Dop­ing Agency. This has been go­ing on since the mid-2000s, when the ICC first signed up to work with the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency. The BCCI re­fused to com­mit to Wada’s where­abouts sys­tem, be­cause its star play­ers were wor­ried about the se­cu­rity risk they’d be tak­ing if they re­vealed

their home ad­dresses to the drugtesters.

In­stead, af­ter a year of ne­go­ti­a­tions, the BCCI and the ICC con­cocted a be­spoke anti-dop­ing pro­gramme which broadly sat­is­fied both par­ties, and so, in 2011, the sport be­came Wada-com­pli­ant. In­dia, mean­while, out­sourced their do­mes­tic dop­ing con­trol to a pri­vate firm based in Swe­den, In­ter­na­tional Dop­ing Tests amp; Man­age­ment, who now op­er­ate the an­ti­dop­ing pro­gramme for the IPL and other do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tions. But in April this year, Wada ran an au­dit of In­dia’s Na­tional Anti-Dop­ing Agency, and found that be­cause the BCCI doesn’t recog­nise Nada’s au­thor­ity, or al­low it to con­duct any tests at its events, Nada is in con­tra­ven­tion of the Wada code.

The im­me­di­ate ques­tion, then, is one of ju­ris­dic­tion. The In­dian De­part­ment of Sport asked the BCCI to al­low Nada to run an anti-dop­ing pro­gramme in do­mes­tic cricket. Wada in­creased the pres­sure on the BCCI by re­veal­ing that one of the BCCI’s ac­cred­ited play­ers did fail a re­cent dop­ing test, with­out re­veal­ing who it was or what sub­stance he had tested pos­i­tive for. But just last week, the BCCI re­fused to com­ply. The BCCI ar­gues that since it’s tech­ni­cally an au­ton­o­mous body and not a na­tional sports fed­er­a­tion, Nada doesn’t have the right to be in­volved in its op­er­a­tion.

The BCCI’s anti-dop­ing set-up is run by Vece Paes, fa­ther of the ten­nis player Le­an­der Paes. And, by its own ac­count, it is ro­bust, bet­ter, per­haps, than Nada’s own. It says it doesn’t need the ad­di­tional scru­tiny. The squab­ble be­tween the two seems to have be­come yet an­other baroque power strug­gle for con­trol over an as­pect of the sport in In­dia. But the up­shot is that the is­sue of anti-dop­ing has be­come politi­cised, and, as a re­sult, opaque, con­fused, and con­vo­luted. The ICC, mean­while, seems re­luc­tant to pub­licly com­ment, much less in­ter­vene in the dis­pute. No doubt crick­eters have the mo­tive to dope. The ques­tion is, whether they have the op­por­tu­nity, too.

• This is an ex­tract taken from The Spin, the Guardian’s weekly cricket email.To sub­scribe to the Spin, just visit this page and fol­low the in­struc­tions.

Cases of crick­eters us­ing recre­ational drugs have been com­mon but that is not the case with per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs such as in other sports. Pho­to­graph: Tom Shaw/Getty Images

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