The National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada) has reported two leading athletes of the Rio-bound Indian Olympic contingent for anti-doping rule violations in recent days.
Wrestler Narsingh Yadav alleged "conspiracy" and "sabotage" by those interested in preventing him from Olympic participation, while shot putter Inderjeet Singh also alleged a similar "conspiracy" by unnamed authorities. In both cases, it was fairly obvious whom they were referring to.
One crucial point that seems to have escaped the attention of those who have been demanding a quick disposal of the Yadav case has been the time permitted for filing an appeal. If the athlete is an "international-level" competitor, the appeal has to be filed "exclusively" to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a Lausanne-based sports disputes court.
The time allowed could be a minimum of 21 days, but more for the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), if it were to intervene. There is no shortcut to push either Yadav or Inderjeet towards Rio.
One other point that needs mention here is the fallacy of the constant assertion by several "experts" that no one going for Olympics would consume steroids so close to the games. Unless we know when the ingestion took place, talking about "washout" periods is pointless.
After 2011, this is the first time that Nada has managed to bring forward charges against top-level internationals. For doing its job, it has been criticised, while the new sports minister, through his suo motu statement in Parliament on Thursday has correctly explained Nada’s functions and rights. Any reference to Wada’s advice on a targeted athlete could have been avoided, though.
It is clear Nada has gone full steam in its Rio build-up testing programme and little is gained by athletes or federations or politicians or supporters alleging that Nada seemed to have "targeted" a particular athlete or athletes during the past few months.
"Target testing" is stipulated in the Wada Code. It is the most essential component of out-of-competition testing which is the bedrock of anti-doping efforts. None in Nada is expected to sound apologetic for target-testing an athlete three or four times a month, notwithstanding the public furore.
One major stipulation in the Wada Code is related to "independence" of the anti-doping agency. Nada has been almost completely controlled by the government through the years. It was only recently that a new director general (Navin Agarwal), who is an IPS officer, was appointed, detached from the sports ministry. The laboratory (NDTL) is still headed by the sports secretary.
The government’s role was recently objected to by Wada in the Kenyan example. That Wada hasn’t intervene in the Indian case is surprising. Despite its deficiencies, Nada has to be complimented for the sizeable number of dope-offenders brought before hearing panels since inception in 2009. The number stood at 686 as of 15 July, an alarming number that should wake up various agencies.
In terms of percentages of athletes reported for doping violations Nada has done exceedingly well through the years. The figure of 99 positive tests in 2014 from 4340 urine and blood samples amounting to 2.3 per cent is the highest for any anti-doping authority that has tested over 2500 samples. Athletics (29) and weightlifting (23) led that list. Surprisingly Nada reported just one "positive" from wrestling in that period out of 246 tests including 41 blood samples.
Despite the overall success, there has invariably been an impression that somehow leading athletes in all sports potentially susceptible to doping were either being given a long rope or were avoiding testers without too much of a problem. That is where the "whereabouts" programme kicked in last year. A beginning was made with athletics in May, 2015, with 41 athletes. That list, as per rules, was updated from time to time.
Subsequently Nada also included other Olympic disciplines in the programme. The national registered testing pool athletes would be expected to file their "whereabouts" every quarter, giving Nada a location and time on a daily basis where he/she would be available for testing.
Despite being terribly under-staffed, Nada needs to do more to educate athletes through its website. It does not have a system of periodically warning athletes on its website not to use supplements without ensuring their purity. Nor does it have an online drug reference system by which athletes could find out whether a drug is banned. A collaboration with US or UK agencies would lead to such a facility. A "whistleblower" hotline would be another welcome addition.
The writer has been covering doping-related issues in Indian sports for years