Asian Games 400m hurdles gold medallist A.C. Ashwini and five other woman 400m runners were on Friday suspended for one year for anti-doping rule violations by the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary panel headed by Dinesh Dayal.

The suspensions, the first of its kind in the country on such a celebrated batch of athletes, three of whom were part of the gold medal-winning relay teams in the last Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, have more or less ruined their chances of figuring in the London Olympics next year.

Apart from Ashwini, the two others who formed part of the victorious relay teams are Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose. Jauna Murm, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas are the other suspended athletes.

Harikrishnan gets two years

Long jumper Harikrishnan Muralidharan, who also tested positive for the same steroid (methandienone) as the women, was suspended for two years. The Air Force athlete could not put up a credible defence to get a reduced sanction.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is expected to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the decision on Mandeep and Murmu who had tested positive in tests conducted by the IAAF last May.

It was possible, the IAAF could seek a four-year suspension for these two athletes, instead of the standard two, under the “aggravating circumstances” rule, IAAF sources had indicated recently.

The National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) which processed these cases, was on Friday contemplating appeal at the National level. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) could also be expected to intervene since it is rare that a reduced sanction on “contaminate supplements” use is left unchallenged.

All the athletes excluding Mandeep and Murmu will have the right to appeal to the National Anti-Doping Appeal panel. These two, having been “international level” athletes at the time of testing, will have to approach the CAS. All National-level appeals will have to be made within 14 days.

In letting off the women with a milder punishment, the Dayal panel, which also included Dr N. K. Khadiya, and hockey Olympian Ashok Kumar, applied Article 10.5.2 (no significant fault or negligence) of the Code.

The panel accepted the contention of the athletes that the banned steroids had entered their bodies through the ginseng bought and supplied by the foreign coach, Yuriy Ogordonik. It ruled that the Ukrainian coach had been part of the coaching staff since 1999 and was thus part of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) set-up responsible for the training of the athletes.

“The athletes cannot be expected to verify such supplements provided to them by the authority responsible for sports in the country,” it wrote in its order.

There was no mention of the ‘mystery' of only two of the girls — Mandeep and Tiana — testing positive for two steroids, methandienone and stanozolol, found in the supplements on testing in the Delhi laboratory, and the other four coming positive only for methandienone after all six had purportedly consumed the same supplement.

The order quoted a report from the SAI regarding its investigations which culminated in the foreign coach being pinned for the supply of ginseng that eventually proved the ‘culprit'. It also quoted the contention of the athletes that the Justice Mudgal Committee had got the supplements examined by the laboratory and found that the batch of ginseng was contaminated.

Deadline too close

By the time the athletes make a return to competition (Mandeep, Murmu on June 22, 2012, Tiana on June 29), if their one-year suspensions hold, the Olympic qualification deadline for the relay (July 2) would be too close for comfort. The return of the others (Ashwini on July 3, Priyanka on July 4 and Sini on July 5) would be after the relay qualification deadline.

As per IAAF rules all suspended athletes will need to go through four re-instatement tests before being allowed back including the last one for the entire range of banned substances.