Noting that the punishment for a dope-tainted athlete ‘cannot be for perpetuity’, the sports ministry decided on Saturday that funds for training under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) cannot be denied if the athlete has served the punishment. In a meeting with the sports ministry officials earlier this month, the TOPS Identification Committee had suggested that once the national and international doping agencies find athletes eligible to compete after serving the suspension, they should be treated in the same manner as others.
Under the TOPS, athletes who are seen as medal prospects for the Commonwealth and Asian Games along with the Olympics are given special financial assistance, apart from a monthly stipend of Rs 50,000. At present, funds in some cases are withheld for the athletes with an asterix mark against their names.
There have been stray occasions where the dope-tainted athletes have received funding under TOPS, most notably the quartermilers who were caught in the 2011 doping scandal. Members from that relay squad received crores for last year’s Olympics, a decision that drew considerable flak. Incheon Para-Asian Games gold-medal winning high jumper Sharad Kumar, too, was a beneficiary, despite serving a two-year suspension from 2012 to 2014. The ministry’s decision, however, will end the uncertainty over eligibility of dope-tainted athletes for funding under TOPS. The scheme’s identification committee argued ‘there was no valid ground’ to stop the funding if the athlete has been cleared by the anti-doping agencies.
“The quantum of punishment is decided by doping bodies keeping in mind the seriousness of the offence. Once an athlete has served the punishment and if such an athlete is found deserving to be promoted by the TOPS identification Committee, he or she will not be denied the assistance,” a ministry source said.
This might still not clear the decks for the likes of Davinder Singh, who has not been included in the TOPS list owing to a pending dope case against him. “In Davinder’s case, he is yet to be exonerated by the national anti-doping agency. If that happens, he too will be eligible for funding. For the time being, only those who have served suspension or are cleared by NADA will be considered for TOPS,” the source said.