After almost three weeks of suspense, the Union Sports Ministry on Thursday decided not to give the Arjuna award to triple jumper Renjith Maheswary who had failed a dope test and served a three-month suspension in 2008.
The whole episode was unprecedented in the history of the National Sports Awards.
Following a media report that the Kerala athlete had tested positive for banned stimulant ephedrine during the National Open Athletics Meet in Kochi and was punished for the offence, the Sports Ministry decided to withhold the award for Maheswary hours before President Pranab Mukherjee gave away the honours at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on August 31.
Following an enquiry, conducted by Sports Secretary P.K. Deb, the ministry said in a release on Thursday that since it had been confirmed that Maheswary had served the suspension and never protested against the findings or the disciplinary panel, it would be considered that he had accepted the punishment.
“Maheswary was suspended by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) pending an enquiry. The case was heard by the enquiry committee of the AFI and Maheswary was given an opportunity to present his case as well. Maheswary did not request for an analysis of his ‘B’ sample,” said the release.
On January 10, 2009, Maheswary was awarded a punishment of a ban for three months starting from October 13, 2008. Maheswary was also disqualified from the said championships. This was communicated to him by the Director of AFI vide his letter No. F.7-4/AFI/MC/2009 dated January 10, 2009.”
As per the existing rule of the Arjuna award scheme, sportspersons found positive for the use of drugs banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in any laboratory accredited by the IOC would not be eligible for the award. (The wordings of the rule, even though amended in 2010, still contain IOC which perforce should have been changed to WADA at least from 2004).
Since the AFI could not give any concrete information as to whether the athlete had tested positive for ephedrine or whether he was suspended for a doping offence, the ministry had almost made up its mind to go ahead and give the award to Maheswary.
However, based on subsequent information gathered independently by the ministry and the minister, and some information provided by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) which was also initially at least in favour of giving the award to the athlete, the ministry decided against giving him the award.
What finally tilted the balance against the athlete seems to be the letter written by the AFI to the Railway Sports Promotion Board in 2009, listing the doping offence and the sanction.
The ministry managed to get a copy of that letter.
The ministry pulled up the AFI for its ‘failure’ to “provide full details of the case.”
“The AFI has been asked to explain this inability to provide critical information. They have also been asked to explain how they nominated Maheswary for the Arjuna award.”
The ministry decided to create a new set of ‘Standard Operating Practices’ so that such incidents might not get repeated.