Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

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A chance to get an annual “financial assistance” of up to Rs 16 lakh, college admissions and job opportunities – these are the incentives on offer at the Delhi State Athletics Championship. However, if a beneficiary fails a dope test, he/she will have to return the funds received from the Delhi government in the past.

This explains the hide-and-seek between athletes and National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) officials at the state meet at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium earlier this week.

As reported by The Indian Express, the sudden appearance of anti-doping officials on Tuesday, the final day of the event, resulted in mass withdrawal of athletes – only one sprinter turned up for the men’s 100 metres final; the Under-20 boys’ 100m final saw just three finalists; and the Under-16 boys’ hammer throw event too had just one participant.

A steeplechaser kept running after crossing the finish line, trying to scoot out of the stadium before being caught by a dope-testing official, and many of the winners didn’t even show up for the medal ceremony.

A doping athlete at a Delhi meet has the chance of qualifying for the national level, where if one finishes among the top eight, they become eligible for the big financial assistance and chance for admissions in Delhi colleges and government jobs.

Freedom Sale

In the case of junior athletes, the financial assistance towards their food and nutrition, sports equipment and kits, and travel within the country could go up to Rs 2 lakh for those up to 14 years of age, and Rs 3 lakh for those up to 17.

Misuse of incentives

The Delhi government has two major schemes — “Play and Progress” and “Mission Excellence” – to provide support to promising athletes.

“A sportsperson will be supported for his needs related to food/ nutrition, sports equipment, sports kits, training and travel, boarding and lodging (within the country as well as outside) and medical needs. The quantum of support shall be demand-linked and not exceeding Rs 16 lakh,” says a Delhi government circular.

Both the schemes carry a clause that penalises those who fail the dope test. “If at any stage, a sportsperson receiving assistance from the government is found guilty of age fraud or indulging in doping or getting assistance from any other state/ UT, the assistance will be stopped with immediate effect. Recoveries will also be made of the assistance already provided,” it says.

It specifies that assistance will be provided “initially for a period of two years”, after which “the continuation will be extended on yearly basis”, based on an annual review of the athlete’s performance.

Dinesh Rawat, former international athlete and Delhi state coach, linked the athletes’ behaviour to the financial incentives. “This is the reason why they didn’t turn up for the finals. It really hurts me to see the state of affairs right now. These people take shortcuts to get financial assistance, and deserving athletes miss out,” he said.

Although a Delhi state medal doesn’t make an athlete eligible for a government or PSU (public sector unit) job, Rawat said that it is the first step. “This is the first stage. Selections for the nationals happen on the basis of state performances. If they don’t perform well here, how will they reach the nationals, and try to win a medal there and secure a job? The state meet opens the first door for an athlete,” said Rawat, who represented India at the 1998 Asian Games.

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But a state medal does help in securing admission in Delhi University. “You get points for each podium finish certificate at state meets. At one point, for a sports quota college admission, the ratio was 50:50 — half for the certificate, and half for college selection trials,” said Sandeep Mehta, Delhi State Athletics Association Secretary and an associate professor at Dyal Singh College.

A leading voice in sports medicine in India talks about the perils of short-term benefits.

“The incentives in sports are huge – jobs, prize money, scholarships. Many athletes take to doping to avail these benefits even at the cost of harming their health. They feel rewards are waiting for them,” said Dr PSM Chandran, a senior member of NADA’s appeals panel.



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