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Is Pakistan protecting its cricketers?

CNN-IBN

CROSS FIRE: In an SMS poll on IBNLive.com 69 per cent said that Shoaib and Asif have been
protected.
Pakistani pacers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif have been cleared of doping charges by a
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appointed appellate tribunal. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were
banned for two years and one year respectively after testing positive for a banned substance
Nandrolone.
Justifying the lifting of the ban the tribunal said that the bans were too harsh and could have destroyed
the careers of both bowlers. Now with the ban lifted, both might be available to play in the World Cup
in West Indies next year.
Is Pakistan protecting its cricketers from doping charges?
On CNN-IBN’s panel of Face the Nation was former Test player—Atul Wassan and sports medicine
specialist Dr Pushpinder Bajaj.
In a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday morning in Karachi, Shoaib and Asif were handed out a new
lease of life by the three-member tribunal appointed to review their bans for doping. However, the big
question now is that whether or not the two will play in the 2007 World Cup?
Atul Wassan was clearly not happy with the way the PCB had gone about the entire doping issue
involving both the bowlers who could be crucial to Pakistan's World Cup campaign.
"I was expecting a longer rope to Mohammad Asif and a harder slap for Shoaib. This was indeed a
sham that Pakistan took its player back to its own country so that they would not be tested under the
international doping rules. I think this was all pre-planned," Wassan said.
Editor of Cricinfo Pakistan, Osman Samiuddin said, "There is some credence in Atul’s views. The way
Shoaib and Asif have been given a clean chit in the doping case, it does give the appearance of a sham.
The only point I would make is that since they made the results public, the Pak tribunal deserves some
credence for that. They did not hide things, contrary to what was being expected. Perhaps the main
issue lies with PCB’s own anti-doping policy. A lot of people including the lawyer of Shoaib Akhtar
said it is flimsy piece of work."
Ironically in a country like India, when the match-fixing enquiry took place Mohammad Azharuddin
was banned for life, whereas when it came to Pakistan, most of the players accused of match fixing
were either let back to their careers or suddenly in some way were exonerated. This raises quite a many
question marks over the internal procedure of Pakistan.
"I would like to point out that Salim Malik was banned for life. Though Malik was the only one to have
been banned, there were others against whom the charges were not clear enough to get a life ban.
Match-fixing is an entirely different subject. But in the doping case, the legal basis that the tribunal has
given overturning the ban seems sound enough. But it is the PCB’s anti-doping policy that needs be
blamed," Samiuddin said.
In both Pakistan and India, are systems not tough enough to check doping?
Perhaps in both Pakistan and India, the systems are not tough enough to check doping. And therefore
players could get away till someone gets caught on the international stage as it happened with the
Indian discus thrower Seema Antil just before the Asian Games in Doha.
Sports medicine specialist Pushpinder Singh Bajaj is of the view that the lack of a World Anti-Doping
Agency (WADA) accredited lab in India and Pakistan is complicating the matter.
"That happens perhaps because we don’t have an accredited lab in Pakistan or India. Once we have a
WADA accredited lab I’m sure the surveillance of players who are involved in doping would become
much easier," Pushpinder Singh Bajaj said.
But has there been even an attempt to perhaps ensure greater surveillance in India or even in Pakistan?
Or is it that doping is not seen as a serious problem at all?
"I think the problem has been over looked for the time being. As a doctor if you look at the medical
implications of doping, it’s definitely harmful to the body. Doping might boost performance but it
certainly is harmful to the health," Bajaj said.
Could Shoaib have had a case where he could have excused taking dope saying that he was recovering
from injuries and that was why he took it. Or like Asif’s statement in the doping charges when he said
he didn’t knew what he was taking.
"If you go by WADA rules or the ones laid by ICC, the player is totally responsible for taking anything
in his body. But as the PCB quotes its exceptional circumstances law, the PCB is ready to take up the
responsibility of its players," Bajaj said.
Is it possible that a player may not know what he is consuming?
Can a player rightfully claim that he only took dope because he did not know what he was taking? He
can perhaps say that he was taking it to build his body, to recover from an injury and therefore doesn’t
know what’s happening.
"If you give the benefit of doubt, you can perhaps give these excuses. But Shoaib Akhtar has been
playing international cricket for the last seven-eight years. He has been playing the world cups, county
cricket - so this is all hogwash that he did not know what he was taking. Nandrolone is not something
that you can just take over the counter," Wassan said.
"Nandrolone is basically taken for the intra muscular injuries. Generally its absorption is only about
two per cent and taking the prescribed amount would not raise its level so high as exhibited in the urine
test of Shoaib and Asif after the tests," said Bajaj.
Thus Shoaib perhaps knew very well that he was taking Nandrolone. "Shoaib being an international
cricketer is not expected to be ignorant of the doping laws. Asif is still a youngster who could have
been influenced by somebody," Wassan said.
Is pragmatism taking control of everything, including cricket?
How much of the PCB’s decision influenced by the upcoming World Cup? The fact is that the World
Cup is just three-months away and Pakistan need Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif - a feeling shared
by a vast section of cricket supporters.
"It’s a fairly credible feeling. Rumours have been taking rounds that Shoaib and Asif have been let free
for the World Cup. But the fact is that PCB has never been happy with particularly Shoaib Akhtar.
Letting him come back has been great victory for him. I don’t think that this decision has been taken
with just the World Cup in mind. A lot of PCB officials and senior members in the team are not happy
with the decision either," Samiuddin said.
How much truth is there in the rumours that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had also intervened
since he is an ardent cricket fan?
"As far as President is concerned he would not intervene in these matters. He is a cricket fan and a fan
of Shoaib Akhtar as well. But then he is not been responsible for this decision," Samiuddin added.
How can the problem of doping be curbed?
"I think the coaches and the trainers have a big role to play. The administrators and officials also should
pass information on what are the implications of doping, what the laws are and what drugs do really
mean. They must tell players if these drugs are really beneficial. What they can achieve through hard
work and performance cannot be done by help of drugs," Bajaj said.
"The players are given a list of all the drugs. Every time they take a medicine they are supposed to turn
around the list to see if it is not a banned drug. In our country may be we can say that there is need for
special seminars to educate the young players about doping. But also the quantum of punishment
should be large in this case," Wassan said.
Final Results: Is Pakistan protecting its cricketers from doping charges?
On the final verdict of the SMS poll, it showed that 69 per cent of the viewers seemed to believe that
Pakistan is protecting its cricketers from doping charges, while 31 per cent said ‘no.’
Clearly, the Pakistan Cricket Board has much to explain.

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