Two of the suspended quarter-milers, Mandeep Kaur and A.C. Ashwini, have been training at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala, for the past few months, with the knowledge of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Union Sports Ministry.
Enquiries revealed that they were not staying at the NIS, but were using the facilities there. More significantly, a foreign coach (Anatoli Varda of Ukraine), employed at government expenditure, was in charge of Ashwini’s training in the hurdlers’ group while Mandeep was under the care of coach N. Ramesh.
It was being explained that the authorities had granted permission to the athletes as a “continuation of the arrangement” that enabled four of the six suspended athletes train at the SAI Northern centre, Sonepat, last year, following a court order.
It is unclear whether there was a request from the athletes or the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), seeking facilities at the NIS or the services of a foreign or Indian coach.
The Delhi High Court had dealt with a petition that demanded training facilities for the athletes, suspended for doping offences, to attempt qualification and eventual participation in the London Olympics.
Justice Vipin Sanghi had allowed training facilities (track and gymnasium) specifically at the SAI centre, Sonepat.
The Olympic qualification did not materialise for the relay team.
The AFI did not even attempt to enter a team in the final qualification phase because of the futility of such an exercise.
Finally, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) successfully appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the one-year suspensions imposed by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) and got a two-year suspension for all the six athletes.
The belief that the fortunes of the Indian 4x400m relay team, especially in the forthcoming Asian championships in Chennai, would depend on some of these suspended athletes if not all, seems to have led to the continued support for the athletes.
In the bargain, as had happened last summer, much to the embarrassment of the then Sports Minister, Ajay Maken at a press conference, once again the Code is being violated and the UNESCO Convention on doping ignored.
Suspended athletes are not allowed to participate in a national training camp. So says the Code.
The UNESCO Convention, to which the Government of India is a signatory, supports the Code and forbids “sports-related financial support” to suspended athletes.
The Delhi High Court, on March 30 last year, asked the government and the AFI to “take a conscious decision” regarding the application of article 10.10.4 (withholding financial support during ineligibility) since the matter, it said, had to be left to the authorities to deal with in each individual case.
The Steering Committee of the Sports Ministry, chaired by the then Sports Secretary, Sindhushree Khullar, at its meeting on March 5, 2012, had decided, “these athletes would not be allowed to train at SAI centres during the period of their ineligibility.”
Following the court order it was decided at another Steering Committee meeting, on April 30, to allow the four athletes, along with Mandeep and Jauna Murmu, to use the facilities at Sonepat.
Mandeep and Murmu were not among the petitioners. Along with Ashwini, the others were Sini Jose, Tiana Mary Thomas and Priyanka Panwar.
When the matter came up before the court again on May 15, 2012, the AFI sought “ten days time to take a conscious decision in terms of the last order”.
There is nothing on record, however, to indicate that the AFI has taken a “conscious decision” on the matter even after the expiry of nine months.
The court’s interim order came at a time when the athletes had expressed their inability to raise finances to approach the CAS and urged the court to intervene in view of their Olympic preparations.
They eventually defended at the CAS proceedings through lawyer R.K. Anand, when the IAAF appeal came up.