The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has filed an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the one-year suspensions of four Indian athletes.

The four athletes, all female 400m runners, Ashwini A.C., Sini Jose, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas, were suspended for one year each for steroid violations by a disciplinary panel last December.

The suspensions were upheld last month by the National Anti-Doping Appeal panel (NADAP) which took up appeals from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the four athletes. The NADAP headed by Justice C.K. Mahajan (retd.) also backdated their suspensions to enable the athletes compete in “Olympic trials”.

Clubbing of cases sought

The IAAF appeal, against the NADAP decision, was filed at the Lausanne-based CAS last Thursday. It has sought to club the cases of Mandeep Kaur and Jauna Murmu, two other 400m runners, against whose suspensions also it had filed an appeal earlier, with the appeal related to the four athletes. This is the first time since the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) became functional in January, 2009 that an Indian athlete's case has gone to the international court in Switzerland.

In the case of Mandeep and Murmu, two ‘international-level' athletes who were tested last May under IAAF regulations, the IAAF has appealed against the disciplinary panel's decision. In the case of the other four, the appeal is against the NADAP verdict.

Though rules do not permit an appeal to the NADAP by ‘international-level” athletes, Mandeep and Murmu have recently appealed to the Mahajan panel. The NADA rules and the WADA Code permit the IAAF and the WADA to appeal a decision of the National appeal panel to the CAS.

The IAAF is seeking enhancement of the athletes' suspensions, primarily on the argument that they were negligent in accepting a supplement (ginseng) from the foreign coach (Yuriy Ogorodnik) without bothering to verify the integrity of the supplement.

The disciplinary panel and the NADAP had held that there was “no significant fault or negligence” on the part of the athletes and they were forced by circumstances to follow the instructions of the coach.

The four athletes had approached the Delhi High Court last month against the NADAP decision and the court had admitted the writ petition and posted the matter for May 15.

On being told by the NADAP/WADA counsel that the athletes could approach the NADA and the latter could grant them permission to appeal to the CAS, the court stated, in its interim order: “To expect that they should approach the appellate body i.e., CAS, which is situated far away in  Switzerland would be too much.

They would have to depend completely upon support from the State to be able to exercise their said right of appeal.”

Justice Vipin Sanghi of the High Court further stated: “I am, therefore, inclined to proceed further in the matter until the respondent nos. 1 (Union Government) and 4 (Athletics Federation of India) espouse the cause of the petitioners, and empower them to approach CAS in Switzerland.”

The court also ordered that till the next date or till the time the Government and the AFI “take a conscious decision in terms of article 10.10.4 in respect of each of the petitioners, whichever is earlier,

I am inclined to permit to petitioners to avail of the facilities at the campus of Sports Authority of India in Sonepat.”

Article 10.10.4 of the NADA rules deals with withholding financial support to an athlete during the period of ineligibility. The Union Sports Ministry is in the process of taking up the matter of suspended athletes training at Sonepat in the light of the court order at its next Steering Committee meeting so that a final decision could be conveyed to the court.

A meeting of the Steering Committee, chaired by the Secretary, Sports Ministry, had on March 5 last decided, after getting a clarification from the NADA, that the SAI would not extend financial support to the suspended athletes.

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