Will cricketers follow baseball sluggers down drugs path?

March 4, 2010

CARDINALS/Reports that Major League Baseball will introduce testing for synthetic Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in its minor leagues next season year prompt disturbing memories of the explosion in power hitting in the 1990s headed by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.

This year McGwire admitted he had taken steroids when he broke Roger Maris’s long-standing home run record in 1998.

Bonds, who bettered McGwire’s record three years later, faces charges that he lied to a grand jury about steroid use.

Although a blood test for HGH was introduced before the 2004 Athens Olympics, nobody had subsequently tested positive until British rugby league player Terry Newton late last month.

But anti-doping officials have long been convinced that athletes across a number of sports have been using HGHc steroids to increase their strength and endurance and to assist a swift recovery after injury.

A 2007 report by former Senator Majority Leader George Mitchell into drug use in basetball concluded that there had been a “collective failure to recognise the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on”.

At a recent doping in sport conference in London, organised by World Sports Law Report, International Cricket Council (ICC) lawyer Iain Higgins suggested that world cricket authorities could be similarly myopic.

Higgins said the prevailing view in the cricket establishment was that performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids had no place in the sport, which was primarily a game of high skill and technique, not power.

This contention, as demonstrated in a video clip Higgins showed to delegates, is no longer the case.

The clip showed Yuvraj Singh hitting six sixes in an over during the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup. As with some other celebrated Twenty20 innings, notably Chris Gayle’s brutal attack on the Australian bowling in last year’s World Cup, the stance and the shots owed as much to baseball as they did to conventional cricket.

“It looks more like baseball,” Higgins commented. “We now see more of these types of innings.”

Higgins was not suggesting that power hitting in limited overs cricket is drug-enhanced. His point was to demonstrate that the ICC, like Major League Baseball a decade ago, will ignore reality if it thinks drugs can not tarnish the sport.

The portents for anti-drugs campaigners are not promising, if only because of the prevailing belief among cricket administrators that drugs have no place in their game.

Four years ago a Pakistan tribunal overturned bans on fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif after the pair had tested positive for the steroid nandrolone. The Court of Arbitration for Sport said it had no jurisdiction to challwenge the decision.

India, which provides 75 percent of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) revenues, have objected to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s whereabouts rules, under which athletes must tell dope testers where they will be for an hour each day.

Cricket is now a lucrative sport at the elite level with increasing demands on strength, power and speed, elements which have tempted athletes in other sports to take performance-enhancing drugs.

The summer sport of the British Commonwealth is unlikely to be an exception.

PHOTO: Hitting coach Mark McGwire hits to infielders during the first day of workouts at the team’s spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida February 18, 2010. REUTERS/Joe Skipper.

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