Banned Substances Claim an Outsize Role in Athletics in India PDF Print E-mail
PATIALA, India — The crumbling Old Moti Bagh Palace houses the National Institute of Sports, the training ground for India’s best athletes. One sweltering spring afternoon, the sprinter Ashwini Akkunji ran laps around its sprawling grounds, past broken fountains, a murky pool and monkeys that occasionally charged people with bared teeth. She and the palace, once home to Patiala’s royal family, had seen better days.

A gold medalist in the 4x400-meter relay and the 400 hurdles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Akkunji was a national hero and inspired awe in other athletes here. But eight months after those victories, Akkunji and five of her relay teammates tested positive for steroids and were suspended from competition for two years.

Athletes around the world have had their careers marred by doping, but Indian athletes, with easy access to legal steroids and limited knowledge about their consequences, lead the world in suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use.

Nearly 500 have tested positive for banned substances since 2009, when India’s National Anti-Doping Agency, known as NADA, became fully functional. In 2012 alone, 178 Indians were barred from competition. Russia has had the second-highest number of suspensions, with more than 260 athletes barred since 2009.

At the same time, Russia, with a population of 143 million, has had great international athletic success, and India, a nation of 1.2 billion, has underperformed. India has won only 26 medals in the 113 years it has competed in the Olympic Games. Russia has earned 482 Olympic medals
since it began competing as the Russian Federation in the 1994 Winter Games.

“India cannot provide proper nutrition, training or medical care for its national athletes,” said Dr. Mohan Chandran, president of the Indian Federation of Sports Medicine. “So, of course, we are decades behind in our knowledge on doping.”

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