Can doping rules be different from country to country? Or can they be applied according to the educational background of an individual athlete?
These and several other questions have come up following the decision of the National Anti-Doping Appeal panel (NADAP) in the case of four female 400m runners.
The detailed order of the NADAP, upholding the decision of the disciplinary panel in giving one-year suspensions to the four athletes, has criticised the Union Government and the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) for the lack of a comprehensive education programme in the field of anti-doping.
The panel facilitated the early return of the suspended athletes in order to enable their participation in Olympic selection trials and relay qualification process.
Though there is no such provision in the rules, the panel, headed by Justice C. K. Mahajan (retd.), ordered that the commencement of suspension be dated back to sample collection date since that would help the athletes “train and compete in the Olympic selection trials. This event comes once in four years.”
The backdating will help the athletes compete at least in a qualification relay in the hope that their presence might help the team clock a good time and make the top-16 grade in the world in order to become eligible for the London Games.
The fate of the athletes will, of course, be known only after the international federation (IAAF) appeal is disposed of by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
What is of immediate relevance to the NADA, the federations and the ministry could be the observations and arguments made in the 16-page judgement issued by the NADAP while completely absolving the athletes of any charge of doping.
The panel came to the conclusion that the athletes had ingested the steroids unknowingly through the ginseng supplied by the foreign coach and, given their background and the facilities at their disposal, could not have been expected to conduct any sort of enquiry to verify the purity of the substance.
“Admittedly these athletes could not have afforded and did not have personal coaches, doctors, or lab facilities available to them to cross check the supplement, medicines given to them at NIS. The athletes were not properly educated and did not own laptops, were not acquainted with internet use to conduct any kind of personal enquiries.
“Further five of the six athletes caught for doping could not even read English well enough to understand the warnings on supplements use. Thus, in the view of this panel, the athletes did not have any option but to completely rely on the guidance received at NIS,” the panel wrote in its order.
The panel opined that athletes in the developed countries were properly educated while those in India could not be compared to such athletes and the standards set in decisions of various CAS awards could not be applied in the Indian context.
The panel stated that the athletes could not have “reasonably known or suspected in the facts and circumstances of the present case that Ginseng Kianpi Pil would be contaminated.”
Throughout the order, the panel has noted that the athletes through the years were being provided ginseng by the coach or the federation or the SAI, and could not have suspected that a particular batch could be contaminated.
However, there is no record of purchase of such substances by the federation nor is there any evidence of the coach having been given any money either by the federation or by the SAI to purchase ginseng from China. There is also no mention of the NIS doctor, Dr. Manabendra Bhattacharya, stating to the SAI enquiry panel that the athletes had not been regularly collecting the SAI-supplied supplements.
Coach Yuriy Ogorodnik had trashed the SAI-supplied supplements as being of poor quality.