Chandigarh: Five-time medal winner and junior national-level boxer Kuldeep Singh’s death due to drug overdose is just the tip of the iceberg of the drug problem in Punjab.
The penetration of drugs among the sportspersons in Punjab began owing to the greed of the Kabaddi promoters, mostly based in Canada, to earn a quick buck. Not that, there is an absence of drugs among athletes competing in other sporting events.
What started as a simple, once in a while ingestion or injection of a steroid, later became part of the lifestyle of some of the players. From steroids, these sportspersons graduated to drugs that were addictive. Many have ever since died or undergone rehabilitation.
Entry Of Drugs In Sports
It came to light in the year 2011, when the licences of some of the pharmacists who had shops near the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, were cancelled. Reason: They supplied steroids to players competing at the national level. A decathlete named Jagtar Singh was the first to bell the cat. Soon enough, others followed.
Later, the drugs made their entry into the Jalandhar Sports Hostel, which later produced most of the gangsters of Punjab.
Vicky Gounder was a national-level discus thrower admitted at Jalandhar Sports Hostel. His friend Prema Lahoriya was a 110-metre hurdles athlete. Similarly, another slain gangster, Sukha Kalwan was also an athlete at the Jalandhar Sports Hostel. And Jaipal Singh Bhullar too was a national-level hammer thrower. But all of them turned away from sports, and into the world of crime, of which drugs were an integral part – either they used to peddle them or consume them. But the Punjab drug story remained under the wraps till at least 2013.
In 2012, then Congress leader Capt Amarinder Singh was eyeing power in the state, and the main issues he raised against the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-led government was the running of the cable mafia, transport and sand mafia. Drugs weren’t part of the narrative during the polls back then.
That the food bowl of the country was fast turning into a drug bowl was first accepted by none other than the then chief minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, at a convocation held at Lovely Professional University (LPU) on May 20, 2013. Hamid Karzai, the former Afghanistan president was also a guest at LPU back then. Badal in his speech turned toward Karzai and said in Hindi: “Karzai saab do something, otherwise your heroin is spoiling our heroes.” He was referring to the heroin coming from Afghanistan.
Former Wrestler Jagdish Bhola’s Arrest
Two years later, in 2015 when former wrestler and ex-Arjuna Awardee Jagdish Bhola was arrested along with boxer Ram Singh, it became clear that drugs had penetrated deep even into the sporting eco-system of the state.
Drugs reached the villages of Punjab through kabaddi players aspiring to make it big. A former kabaddi player, who himself was compelled to use steroids, explains it, “Promoters want players to be on steroids. Reason: They look more agile, acrobatic, and powerful. A kabaddi player injected with 2 ml of steroids makes him as powerful as a leopard and the match becomes a visual delight for the spectators. More spectators mean more money. However, promoters benefit more than the players.”
A kabaddi player from Hoshiarpur, who has undergone rehabilitation, said that he was not allowed to raid as he had not taken steroids. I refused to take steroids, I was made to play the match but wasn’t allowed to raid. And I was told, you won’t be allowed to raid until you take steroids.”
“Later, I realised, I wasn’t allowed to raid because every player was on 2 ml of steroids which made them more powerful than me. I would have actually been no match for them.”
State-level Kabaddi Player Died In Nov 2021
Kiranveer Mangat, a resident of Baagri village in Sangrur lost his only son Dilpreet Singh in November 2021. Dilpreet was a state-level kabaddi player. Later, Mangat came to know that he got hooked on drugs because someone told him he could raid better in a kabaddi match after a dose of chitta which acted as a steroid. “This may be true temporarily. But you just last not more than two years. And that’s the end of it. My son didn’t last even a year after he started taking drugs,” Mangat tells.