The six woman athletes, charged with adverse analytical findings, have pleaded ‘exceptional circumstances' to explain the presence of banned substances in their urine samples collected last May-June.

Quite expectedly, at the resumed hearing before the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary panel, the six 400m runners took the plea that there was no fault or negligence on their part in turning in positive tests for steroids since the supplement (ginseng) supplied by the foreign coach contained the banned substances.

Even though an enquiry conducted by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) claimed to have brought out an admission from Ukrainian coach Yuriy Ogorodonik that he had supplied theginsengin question to the girls, the coach did not admit this in his written statement.

He reportedly told the SAI and the Justice Mudgal enquiry committee that he had brought theginsengfrom an ‘official shop' in Guangzhou during the last Asian Games in November.

Slip-up

In his written statement, witnessed by SAI coaches at the NIS, Ogorodonik, however, submitted that he had only recommended certain supplements to the girls and he did not expect them to take steroids. He said the girls purchased the substance from the market and to that extent he had failed to ensure that they would not consume banned substances.

Six top quarter-milers, three of them part of the gold-medal winning relay teams in the last Commonwealth Games and Asian Games have been charged with steroid violations in tests conducted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).

Mandeep Kaur, Ashwini A.C., Jauna Murmu, Sini Jose, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas face a two-year suspension if the charges are proved.

The crux of the defence put up by lawyer R.K. Anand was that Ogorodonik had suppliedginsengto the athletes in the absence of SAI-supplied supplements and the batch brought in by the coach turnedout to be contaminated.

Curiously, though the substance purportedly given by Ogorodonik contained steroidsmethandienoneandstanozolol, only two girls (Mandeep and Tiana) tested positive for both; the others turned up onlymethandienonein their samples.

Anand could not explain this phenomenon. He kept arguing that when supplements were being supplied by the Government or its agencies or even by the federation, athletes could not be held responsible under the ‘strict liability' principle. The lawyer claimed the athletes had been consumingginsengfor seven or eight years.

An ill-advised parallel enquiry conducted by the SAI, without the knowledge of the NADA, resulted in the NDTL testing six different supplements. The procedure complicated matters since the prosecuting agency cannot now be expected to cross-examine Ogorodonik as to his reported statements as he has left the country.

The NADA also cannot independently verify from where these supplements were collected for testing either by the SAI. The NADA lawyers sought more time to confirm the information apparently gathered by the SAI.

Prosecution's objection

Anand, in fact, sought to bring in the Mudgal Committee report, yet to be officially submitted or released, but the prosecution objected. Anand said that he had moved an application for the report that had been completed, and he could furnish a copy to the NADA.

Though the cases have reached a stage of discussing ‘no fault or negligence' clause there is no word yet, either from the panel or the prosecution, whether the cases of Mandeep and Murmu would be transferred to the IAAF for a final decision by its Doping Review Board about the existence of ‘exceptional circumstances'.

The IAAF had agreed to transfer the cases to NADA only on the condition that the IAAF rules would apply. Mandeep and Murmu tested positive in IAAF tests.