Abhijit Salvi is the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s anti-doping manager. Speaking to The Indian Express, the BCCI’s point-man when it comes to anti-doping measures, admits that the BCCI needs to increase the number of out-of-competition testing — the most powerful means of deterrence and detection — explains why the BCCI has no registered testing pool for its cricketers and talks about why Prithvi Shaw’s casual approach towards over the counter medication led to the ’embarrassing’ situation for the cricketer.
How many anti-doping awareness programmes have been conducted by the BCCI for the players?
Even now I am in Dharamsala (for one such programme). We have been doing it every year, annually, before the start of the season and across age groups since 2010. In each and every state we conduct this. Earlier it used to be myself and Dr Vece Paes but since he retired a couple of years back I have been doing it on my own.
So you personally go to each state association to conduct this anti-doping awareness programme?
Yes I do that.
What constitutes this anti-doping programme?
We used to have an audio visual programme but along with that we also have a power-point presentation and it is more of an interaction with the players. We also have the BCCI anti-doping pocket guide, which we have had since 2010 and it gives out the list of medicines that are banned, what are players rights and responsibilities, what they are expected to do. All these details in brief are included in the pocket guide along with the 24×7 helpline number.
So who answers this 24×7 helpline number?
So basically you are a one-man army?
Yes, right now I am a one-man army but honestly I wouldn’t like to use that word. We do have support. Essentially slowly we would grow, but right now I have been able to manage.
Did Prithvi Shaw attend the anti-doping awareness programme?
Yes he has. He has attended at least three of these programmes (anti-doping programmes). He was the captain of the India Under-19 team and the ICC at the Under-19 World Cup as well conduct these workshops. He has attended that plus, three of our programmes at least.
So Prithvi Shaw attended these programmes but went and bought an over-the-counter medication (cough syrup) and tested positive for a stimulant. As BCCI’s Anti-doping manager this is a basic thing you would have told cricketers ‘don’t take over the counter’ medicines.
During our presentation, at least 10 to 15 times I repeat to the players (not to take over the counter medicines) rather than just telling them about history of doping and the list of banned medications (which nobody can remember). Even when queries are asked to me I check the list (banned substances). So we don’t expect cricketers to remember names of medicines. We tell players that even if it is the simplest of medication for a fever or headache you have to check with us. Everyday I get at least 25 to 30 drug queries on the helpline from different part of the country. So the message has percolated right from Sikkim to Kerala and all cricketers know they are bound by the anti-doping code. But I am sure Prithvi knew, if he was attentive for even five seconds in class. Just somehow a casual attitude (Prithvi’s) led to this embarrassment.
Was there a delay in the results coming from the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL)?
Yes, we only received the report from the lab on the 2nd of May, although we had conducted the test in February. We have an arrangement with the lab that with the IPL being a shorter tournament we ask for the reports in 48 working hours and for domestic tournaments we ask for 10-day reporting. NDTL has been good because for the last few years all our samples have been tested by them. They have been prompt but this time along with Prithvi’s report there have been a couple of reports pending as well. In the month of March and April we actually wrote to the lab asking them ‘we haven’t received these reports’ and they responded saying they had some technical issues and they said they would report it shortly. There lies the delay. It wasn’t like we tried to suppress the reports and let him play in the IPL.
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Does the BCCI have a national registered testing pool of players?
No we don’t have a national testing pool, but everyone who players BCCI matches, be it under-16, be it a girl or a boy and right up to the senior level, everyone falls in that pool. And the top cricketers are in ICC’s pool.
Do the cricketers have to adhere to whereabouts so they can be tested out of competition?
No domestic cricketers don’t have to adhere to whereabouts but the top cricketers submit their whereabouts for 365 days of the year to the ICC through ADAMS, which is the World Anti-Doping Agency’s software.
So how does the ICC decide on who should be part of their registered testing pool?
Based on the rankings, ICC picks the names and it is updated every six months and accordingly, the players and the BCCI provide the whereabouts. These cricketers maybe contracted or may not be contracted with the BCCI, but depending on the rankings they send us the list every six months and those players have to submit their whereabouts. ICC has its own testing plan and even the BCCI does not know when these cricketers will be tested.
Will you be able to tell me how many of the contracted players have undergone out-of-competition testing?
Those statistics will be with the ICC but from our point of view we have tested them enough but I won’t be able to tell you numbers. Each year BCCI conducts 250 tests overall in domestic cricket.
But out of these 250 tests how many are out of competition tests? Out of competition tests is the bedrock of fight against doping…
True. So in the first two years we were doing only in-competition testing but currently we are doing 30:70. So 30 per cent is out-of-competition and 70 per cent is in-competition. But slowly as per ICC guidelines and WADA guidelines we need to increase the out-of-competition testing. It is not that overnight we can stop in-competition and do only out-of-competition but we are slowly increasing that ratio. We want to increase the number of out-of-competition testing and reverse the ratio.
Does the National Anti-doping Agency (NADA) have any role in collection of samples in cricket?
No. NADA has no involvement in collection. The collection agency is the International Doping Tests and Management Agency (Sweden-based).
When it comes to out of competition testing there is a lot of intelligence in other sports by the World Anti-Doping Agency and respective international federations. Have top Indian cricketers, for example, been tested at their homes?
BCCI has not tested (cricketers at their homes) but I will have to check with ICC if they have gone to the homes of cricketers and tested them. Since 2017, the ICC has even been collecting blood samples from these international cricketers to look for growth hormone and other medicines. Then again I would stress that cricket is a low-risk sport when it comes to doping. Yes, I agree there are drugs which help a cricketer perform better but at the end of the day if you compare with all other sports like athletics, or wrestling and boxing, cricket is low-risk.
During the IPL how does the testing take place?
Even if foreign players participate in the IPL they are participating in BCCI’s domestic tournament so they get tested as well. And if they test positive then BCCI’s anti-doping code is applicable. All around the world among all cricketing nations it is an understanding that if BCCI finds a positive test in a foreign player all other cricket boards will agree with that sanction and approve of the ban as well.
During the IPL does the BCCI conduct any out of competition tests by which I mean, if a team has a gap between matches do you test players say when they are in a gym?
In the IPL we have more of out-of-competition than in-competition really and we have tested at team hotels, training sessions and everywhere.
Does the BCCI test Team India players when they have a camp at say Bangalore and has such testing happened regularly?
I don’t think we have tested a lot of times at the national camp but we have. There have been times when we have tested players (at a camp).
The sports ministry has once again said that the BCCI does not have the right to conduct dope tests since it is not approved by the WADA and sports ministry. It has also said that BCCI is an interested party. Isn’t that an important issue?
See BCCI on a trial basis wants to engage the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), but we haven’t reached an agreement yet with NADA. Although the sports ministry has had this stand, the BCCI has been conducting testing for the last seven years and all the reports have been sent to WADA. And except for NADA not being part of BCCI’s testing, WADA has been happy with what we are doing.
But the fact that the BCCI decides on which player has to be tested, isn’t that odd. It is like saying the Athletics Federation of India will decide on who will be tested when.
If we had to protect any cricketers when they go to the international level, they will anyways get caught.