Doped athletes are gaining by the sympathetic attitude of the hearing panels towards them.
Several athletes charged with doping offences have had their commencement of ineligibility period dated back to sample collection date without justification during the past two years and more.
Rules say concession can be given on the commencement date only in two instances, one in which an athlete has made a timely admission and another in which delays in procedures are not attributable to the athlete.
Normally a suspension begins from the date of decision, with any provisional suspension period being deducted from the total duration.
At least one of the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary panels (chaired by Jasmeet Singh) has consistently given this concession, on the grounds of “special circumstances” without explaining what those circumstances are.
The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) or the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has not intervened to set the record right. However, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recently wrote to the NADA, seeking strict enforcement of relevant rules.
The IAAF pointed out that the period of ineligibility could only start as early as the date of sample collection when the athlete had promptly admitted the doping offence following notification of it.
Are delays attributable to the athlete? In a majority of the cases they are.
There could be delays because of other reasons also. The main problem relates to serving initial notice to the athlete, fixing a date and time for ‘B' sample testing, completing that process, and then issuing another notice for the athlete to appear before a hearing panel.
Once hearing begins, both sides seek adjournments, each normally stretching up to a month or more.
During the past one year, the Jasmeet panel has fixed ‘sample collection date' as the commencement of suspension in at least 22 cases.
In five of them — Atma Singh and Dilshad Ali (kabaddi), Damayant Singh (body building) and Kunal Savardekar and Romina Chanu (powerlifting) — the athletes were deemed to have admitted the offence and hence entitled to gain concession, according to the panel.
An athlete would be expected to make an admission at the first opportunity after being informed. But this did not happen in these cases, all such so-called ‘admissions' coming during hearings after months.
In eight cases — Satnam Singh (kabaddi), Sunita Toppo, Pradeep Kumar, Vishal Nimbalkar, Manju A.B. Jitin Kumar, Jai Prakash and Bachu M.R. (powerlifting) — the athletes did not turn up at all for hearing.
Months were wasted in serving notices to them and in waiting for them to turn up.
Eventually, even in these cases, where the athletes alone could have been held responsible for the delays, the suspension period was relaxed to begin from the sample collection date.
One of the panels under a new chairman, R. S. Chauhan, recently handed out a 10-month suspension to Bengal weightlifter Asim Biswas for a diuretic violation.
Biswas produced medical prescriptions to argue that he was advised Aquazide and Losacar by his doctor for hypertension that led to the ‘positive' tests for chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide. The panel accepted his contention.
In its order, the panel wrote: “Keeping in view the totality of the circumstances, we are of the view that the athlete comes within the purview of ‘other acceptable justification' contemplated under Article 2.6.1.
“We also feel that the athlete is guilty of not filing the declaration and not obtaining prior TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption).”
This is in line with many of the decisions and reasoning of the Jasmeet panel in dealing with a reduced sanction. Occasionally, Jasmeet has also fallen back on Article 10.4.
Article 2.6.1 deals with “possession” and has nothing to do with ‘positive' cases. Article 10.4 deals with ‘specified substances' and does not have the wordings “other acceptable justification.”
Even after admitting that the athlete was guilty of not obtaining a TUE, both the panels have ordered reduced suspensions in recent weeks.
Medical prescriptions normally do not have much relevance, especially in cases where an athlete might have been in a position to get a TUE.