The long-standing tussle between the Sports Ministry and Board of Control for Cricket in India over the latter accepting the authority of National Anti-Doping Agency to test cricketers was finally resolved on Friday with BCCI falling in line while the ministry accepted some of their reservations.
In the two-hour-long meeting between Sports Secretary RS Julaniya with BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and Board’s GM (Cricket Operations) Saba Karim, the former basically laid down the stand of the government and left the cricket board representatives no choice but to accept to the government’s demands.
The BCCI had actually sought a meeting over clearance for the visiting South Africa A, women and men’s team scheduled to tour India starting August 27. Instead, they were asked to first comply with the anti-doping regulations which stipulate that every sportsperson in the country has to be tested by Nada.
“BCCI has come under the ambit of Nada. I explained to them that you don’t have the discretion to follow the law or not. It applies to all uniformly. India is governed by the rule of law. Everyone is equal before the law. The cricketers have agreed,” Julaniya said after the meeting.
For those who have followed tussles between any government agency and the country’s richest sporting body in the past, such issues would normally fizzle out with the BCCI coming out rather unscathed thanks to its clout.
So what really changed this time around?
For one, the sports ministry was not willing to back down from its stance as it has in the past and pushed the BCCI into the corner by not issuing invitation letters to the visiting South African teams, which were required to process their visas. Julaniya had then stated that no federation was above the law and will have to follow the same norms are others.
And secondly, they had the support of the World Anti Doping Agency, which was pushing the International Cricket Council to ensure that BCCI also complied with its revised code and had started proceedings to announce ICC as non-compliant over the issue back in October last year.
In fact, a meeting between Wada, the ICC, and the BCCI was held in March this year after which the board had accepted to sign a tri-partite agreement with Nada and the ICC to test under-23 and junior cricketers on trial basis for six months under the supervision of the cricket board’s anti-doping manager.
But the Sports Ministry had made it clear then that no such agreement could be signed without their consent.
The issue was further escalated in June this year when a question was raised in the Parliament over dope testing of cricketers and the sports minister in his response had stated that:
Nada jurisdiction extends to all athletes and sports organizations in India. BCCI not being a recognized Dope Testing Agency under WADA Code its stand was not found acceptable. WADA was apprised of it and a fresh direction has been issued to BCCI to comply with NADA Rules.
The general viewpoint that the Sports Ministry sprung into action due to BCCI’s inept handling of the Prithvi Shaw dope case in which the India opener was handed a backdated eight-month ban is far from accurate.
In fact, according to an Indian Express report, the Sports Ministry had sent a letter to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri even before Shaw’s dope results were made public and had stated that there was a clear conflict of interest as BCCI tests the players and hands out punishment as well.
The letter had also taken a swipe at BCCI’s claims of a robust mechanism.
“The claim of BCCI having a robust mechanism to ensure Indian cricket is clean and free from doping is not based on facts. In 2018, 215 samples were sent by BCCI to National Dope Testing Laboratory, India, for testing. Of these, 5 tested positive. There is no information as to how these athletes who tested positive have been dealt with,” it said.
However, despite mounting pressure, BCCI officials were confident that they could still swing the deal or get the ministry to accept their terms of six-month trial just as they did in 2017.
Then, Nada DG Navin Agarwal had pushed hard to bring BCCI under the anti-doping agency’s purview but everything came to a sudden halt after a meeting between the board representatives, then sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and sports secretary Rahul Bhatnagar.
The minister, then, even stated that Wada should decide on who should test cricketers.
Ever since the BCCI became a party to the anti-doping code signed between ICC and Wada, the blood and urine samples of cricketers have been collected by Sweden-based International Doping Tests and Management and the ministry is willing to give some leeway to the board’s concerns in this regards.
“They had two or three concerns – the quality of dope testing kit, whether it is Wada accreditated kit or not, we addressed the concern. The second issue was quality of dope control officiers who take the samples. We told them we have officers who are competent. But if you need officers of higher qualification then you have to pay higher fees and it will not just be for BCCI but all other federations,” said Julaniya after the meeting.
A BCCI insider, who was involved in the board signing the anti-doping code back in 2010, said that they had categorically removed any mention of National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) from the agreement as they wanted to protect their autonomy and didn’t want any interference in their functioning by a government body.
Nine years later, the government finally cracked the whip and probably sent a clear message to every other sports federation in the country: no one is above the law.