After having wasted more than three weeks in deciding whether to file an appeal with the National Anti-Doping Appeal panel (NADAP) in the case of four 400m female runners, the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) has allowed the matter to die a natural death.
The appeal by Ashwini A. C., Sini Jose, Tiana Mary Thomas and Priyanka Panwar against their one-year suspensions for steroid violations is scheduled to come up before the NADAP headed by Justice C. K. Mahajan (retd) on Wednesday.
In the absence of a NADA counter appeal for an enhanced period of suspension that was widely expected in this high-profile case, the NADAP can possibly take up only the question of exoneration or reduction of the one-year sanction unless it allows a fresh NADA appeal during the hearing.
The six woman 400m runners, including Mandeep Kaur and Jauna Murmu, had successfully argued before the hearing panel that there was “no significant fault or negligence” on their part in consuming ginseng given by their foreign coach Yuriy Ogordonik.
The ginseng, they claimed, produced the ‘positive' tests. The hearing panel agreed with the argument the athletes had established how the banned drugs entered their body since the ginseng sample, on testing, showed contamination by steroids.
Even though a high-ranking NADA official told The Hindu the other day that there seemed to be limited grounds for appeal in a “reasoned decision” given by the disciplinary panel, what eventually tilted the balance in favour of a “passive approach” to appealing was the lack of interest shown by the Union Sports Ministry, sources said.
Despite the talk, in the media and among authorities, of an Olympic medal from the women's relay team, the fact remains that qualification itself will be extremely difficult, with or without the six athletes, and a medal will be beyond the reach of any Indian quartet.
The suspended runners, if they are eligible by then, would be returning to competition just a month before the Olympics after having gone through a series of reinstatement dope tests.
Were there grounds for NADA to appeal? Or are there grounds for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to prefer an appeal with the NADAP or later with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)?
There are plenty. The main point, in cases dealing with supplements contamination through the years, had been about establishing whether the athlete acted without any negligence or not, or whether there was any “significant fault or negligence”.
If the first argument is accepted then there could be complete exoneration and if second, then the applicable suspension period could be reduced by half.
Many cases are quoted by legal teams to explain the “high standards” set by the CAS in disposing of cases where athletes bring in the ‘supplements contamination' argument.
A classic case in recent years had been that of US swimmer Jessica Hardy where the athlete took considerable amount of pains to verify a product before consuming it.
She was eventually able to get a reduced sanction of one year at the national level, a decision that CAS also upheld, rejecting an appeal by WADA.
Even after every party agreed that supplement contamination had caused the adverse analytical finding, there was no respite from a two-year sanction for Canadian bobsledder Serge Despres in another CAS case.
“My coach gave it” or “my doctor gave it” has hardly ever been a justifiable excuse in any anti-doping rule violation case.
In the matter of the six athletes, there is also the question about only two of them having turned in ‘positive' tests for both the steroids (methandienone and stanozolol) that were found in the supplement samples.
The other four urine samples showed only methandienone. No explanation had been given so far about this.