Amit Panghal, the first Indian male boxer to claim a World championships silver medal, being ignored for the National Sports Awards again has hit the headlines.
Panghal, as a youth boxer, had tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid nearly eight years ago and served a suspension of 18 months. After Panghal produced good results at top level competitions, he has been rejected at least thrice, including once for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, for National awards due to a doping-related rule.
Incidentally, Panghal’s childhood coach Anil Dhankar has been ignored for the Dronacharya award as well.
The National Sports Awards Code says, “Sportspersons who have been penalised or against whom enquiry is pending/ongoing for use of drugs/substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) based on samples collected by National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) or any other agency authorised by WADA and tested by National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) or any WADA-accredited laboratory, will not be eligible for the award.”
Top athletes like Seema Antil and Renjith Maheshwary have been ignored for the National awards in the past due to the same reason.
Even though there is a need to have rules to discourage dope cheats for the National awards, is it fair to have a complete ban? Is it not ideal to have different rules for serious dope cheats and those who have been found guilty of lesser offences? Should someone who has been suspended for four years for consuming a steroid and another athlete who has been given a reprimand for a lesser offence get the same treatment?
There may be an athlete who has failed a dope test inadvertently.
There is a chance that someone may consume a banned substance from a cough syrup (even though the possibility is rare for an athlete) used to treat the common cold.
WADA has always tried to adopt a practical approach while prescribing punishments. In its 2021 Code, it favours reduction in bans for testing positive for recreational drugs consumed out of competition (not with a purpose of enhancing performance).
Even the Indian Penal Code advocates different punishments for different crimes as a pickpocket cannot be equated with a dreaded criminal.
The Union Sports Ministry, which supports the training of athletes who have served punishments for doping and provides cash awards for their medal winning performances, will do well to categorise cases on the basis of the gravity of the offence (primarily looking at the substance taken and sanction served) while considering such names for awards in future.
There is a chance that a dope-tainted athlete can win a medal in the Olympics and put the government in a sticky spot as far as the awards are concerned.
In order to avoid a perplexing situation in future, the government needs to adopt a far-sighted approach and revise the awards code to make it more practicable as far as doping is concerned.
To change with time is the need of the hour.