There’s a specific section in the ‘Prohibited List’ of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code dedicated to ‘Beta Blockers.’ It’s essentially a blocking agent that reduces blood pressure in times of extreme stress. This becomes relevant for precision sports, like shooting. A steady hand, free of nervous twitches is crucial for success in shooting. And beta blockers can provide that in pressure situations.
But it remains a substance banned for all sports in-competition, but prohibited for out-of-competition use by only archery and shooting – both precision sports.
“Shooting is not dependent on enhancing physical performance,” says ace rifle shooter Gagan Narang. “It is all about control, and hence different set of banned substances are prohibited in this sport called beta blockers.”
The 36-year-old belongs to a sport that, in the current era of doping scandals, has a remarkably clean record. Till date, shooting has recorded just two doping episodes – North Korean Kim Jong-su and Russian Sergei Alifirenko tested positive in seperate incidences in 2008. Kim, incidentally, was banned for the use of propranolol – a beta blocker.
“Shooting as a sport is not physical nor very strenuous where you need stuff for recovery or muscle gain,” says the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist. “Shooters in general don’t really use supplements unless you want to build muscle or want to be fit. Sports-wise nobody uses anything. The nature of the sport reduces any use of high performance supplements, thereby curtailing the confusion or ambiguity on whether the supplement is safe to have or not.”
That’s not to say that shooters tend to take anything lightly. Having such a clean record in the sport means that shooters keep a strict watch on everything they have to consume, be it food or prescribed medicines.
Just last year, ahead of a vacation to Leh, Narang remembers being handed a set of pills used to prevent altitude sickness. The medicines are a staple precaution for anyone travelling to Leh, situated 3500 m above sea level. Only, Narang checked and realised the pills featured on the list of banned substances.
“I just couldn’t take it, as simple as that,” Narang says. “Anyway, we decided to just go ahead with the trip. It was a week-long trip, so I decided that if I feel uncomfortable, I’ll just cut it short. But luckily nothing happened.”
Over time, knowledge of the drugs, both legal and illegal in one’s home country becomes well known. But for a sport that involves widespread travel for competitions, athletes find the desired information of foreign alternatives online. One website in particular, GlobalDro (short for Global Drug Reference Online), keeps a track of the WADA prohibited list and provides information to athletes about which drugs are legal for them in specific countries, and also the equavalent for each drug in different countries. For example, Paracetamol in India might be known by a different name abroad.
Still, there are more measures that have to be taken.
“Shooters are very careful especially when they travel abroad,” Narang says. “When it comes to using something like a pain releaving cream or supplement, the language written on products abroad is not easily understandable. So we often consult that website, or check with a doctor. There’s always someone to help, and the knowledge is always available in shooting.”
Just like in all sports, shooting, despite it’s clean record, remains under constant scrutiny. And Narang was duly called for a urine test moments after he won bronze in the 10m air rifle event at the London Olympics. Those tests though, sometimes provide quirky anecdotes.
“It took me a good one or two hours until I could give the sample and come out,” he recalls. Narang goes further to recite another such incident, back at the 2002 Nationals in Hyderabad. “I had to go drop a shooter to the railway station after the match. It took me so long to give the sample that he almost missed the train.”
He’s long been used to the protocol now – it’s become a part of exceeding in the sport.
“It’s a usual process that winners are used to,” he says. “When you are clear in your head, there is nothing to worry about.”
For long, there has been no cause for shooters to worry. The WADA guidelines have been followed well, and every shooter has been made aware of it, along with the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) handbook.
One intoxicant the ISSF hasn’t banned though, is alcohol. But there are strong checks in place.
“Alcohol is not included on the Prohibited List as being prohibited in shooting sport,” reads the ISSF Rule Book. “However, alcohol is dangerous to the health of Athletes, and more importantly can pose a serious safety risk at the shooting range when misused. Any Athlete showing signs of intoxication with alcohol or other drugs shall immediately be expelled from a shooting range.”
But control and self-discipline is the basic fundamental of shooting. These are values that have extended to what a shooter does outside of the sport as well.