Parliament passes anti-doping bill: What it means for sportspersons and why it is important

At a time when the nation’s sportspersons are shining bright at the Commonwealth Games being held in Britain’s Birmingham, Parliament passe...

At a time when the nation’s sportspersons are shining bright at the Commonwealth Games being held in Britain’s Birmingham, Parliament passed the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2022 — a legislation providing a statutory framework for the functioning of the National Anti-Doping Agency and scaling up the network of dope testing laboratories in the country.

The bill, piloted by Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Anurag Thakur, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday through a voice vote after it was cleared by Lok Sabha last week along with certain amendments.

The timing of the bill assumes significance, as it comes close on the heels of an incident in which five members of India’s contingent for the 2022 Commonwealth Games failed their anti-doping tests.

Let’s examine the provisions of this newly-passed bill, the concerns around it and why it is important.

What’s the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2022?

The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2022 was introduced by Sports Minister Anurag Thakur in the Lok Sabha in December 2021, but was later referred to a Standing Committee, over some concerns.

The bill seeks to give legislative backing to anti-doping norms in the country.

The bill will facilitate the operation of the National Anti-Doping Agency, the National Dope Testing Laboratory and other allied bodies. Currently, anti-doping activities are implemented by the National Anti-Doping Agency, which was established as a society. This agency will now become.

As per the sports ministry, the bill will now permit the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) to conduct raids to catch doping offenders.

In official terms, the NADA will have the power of “levying sanctions for anti-doping rule violations, the disciplinary procedures to be adopted and the powers of inspection, sample collection and sharing and free flow of information.”

Presently, NADA isn’t empowered to conduct raids if it suspects or has proof of sportspersons indulging in doping activities at any premises, including national camps.

The National Board for Anti-Doping in Sports will be established to make recommendations to the government on anti-doping regulations and compliance with international commitments on anti-doping. The board will oversee the activities of NADA and issue directions to it.

With the passage of the bill, any rule violation with regard to anti-doping policies will result in disqualification of a sportsperson’s results, including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, and financial sanctions.

MPs reaction to the bill

When introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2021, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur said that it would promote sports and protect the interests of sportspersons in the country.

Some MPs had raised concerns about certain aspects of the bill. Trinamool Congress (TMC) member Saugata Roy had said the proposed National Anti-Doping Board, which the bill envisages, may end up becoming “top heavy”.

Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab had also expressed concern that the bill empowered officials to “act on their belief to suspect any athlete”. According to him, this “creates an unreasonable, arbitrary authority in the hands of agency members to enter athletes’ premises, seize any equipment, device or substance”.

On Wednesday, when the bill was put to vote in Rajya Sabha, Congress’ Deepender Singh Hooda termed it a “positive step” for Indian sportspersons. He suggested that a bench of arbitration be constituted in India so that players do not need to travel to Switzerland to appeal.

Newly-elected Rajya Sabha MP PT Usha also batted for the bill, saying all competitions should be brought under National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) and sought more focus on the field of sports medicine and science to help players recover from injuries.

She highlighted that the country ranks third in the number of individuals who tested positive for steroids and were punished for doping.

“We are yet to open our eyes to the doping in our country which was earlier confined only to the senior national level but has now reached the junior, college and district levels. It is a serious concern which needs to be addressed,” she noted.

Does India really have a doping crisis?

The bill comes in the backdrop of a number of high-profile Indian athletes failing dope tests.

Jumper Aishwarya Babu, amedal hopeful for the Commonwealth Games, failed her doping test during the National Inter-State Athletics Championships held last month. Sprinter S Dhanalakshmi was also barred for allegedly using illegal chemical substances, which came to light after her test was carried out by the Athletics Integrity United (AIU). She was the country’s only participant in the women’s 100m race, and a member of the 400m relay team.

Earlier in May, India’s top discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur was provisionally suspended for failing a dope test conducted by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).

Kaur had made rapid strides last year and set a national record of 66.59 metre at the Indian Grand Prix IV in June to seal her berth at the Tokyo Olympics. She finished second in her group at Tokyo to advance to the final round, where she finished sixth with a best throw of 63.70 m.

Doping is clearly an issue in India, as it was ranked third in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report released in 2021. With 152 cases across disciplines, the country is marginally below leaders Russia (167) and Italy (157).

With inputs from agencies

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