Renjith Maheswary has lost an Arjuna award. A doping infraction that he committed in September, 2008 came back to haunt him through these past three weeks before the agonising wait ended with a formal announcement by the Union Sports Ministry on Thursday.

The ministry’s investigation that often seemed to run into a dead-end was eventually completed thanks to the response of Renjith’s employer, the Railways. But sadly not because of the ‘efficiency’ of the three main agencies — the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) — that were expected to help in answering two simple questions: Did he test positive; was he sanctioned?

Even as Renjith rues his fate, pleads innocence and seeks ‘justice’, there are lessons for the AFI, SAI and the NADA from this unfortunate episode of an athlete being stopped from getting a National award on the day of the awards function and then being deprived of it.

Missing files

The ministry has viewed with concern and scorn the inability of the AFI to furnish “critical information” about the athlete’s anti-doping rule violation in 2008 and the apparent suppression of facts related to a doping violation in its recommendation of Renjith for the award in 2011, 2012 and this year.

Initially the AFI was in ‘denial mode’ even about the ‘positive’ test, but agreed later that there indeed was a violation at the Kochi National, though it could not locate the files.

In not trying to re-open the case on technicalities raised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regarding the validity of the 2008 test, the ministry has accepted the dictum of res judicata, a Latin term, which means a case is no longer subject to an appeal.

It could have been up to Renjith in 2009 to file an appeal, the ministry has noted.

There have been dozens of suspensions in the pre-2009 period when the AFI, through an amendment to its constitution, had endorsed as valid the test results reported by the New Delhi laboratory.

The AFI looks to be still in search of the relevant files concerning Renjith!

The letter it had written to the Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB), in January, 2009, informing it of the suspension of the athlete has turned out to be the most authentic piece of evidence in this complicated case.

Five years after the ‘positive’ result for stimulant ephedrine and a three-month suspension, Renjith’s gold medal lat the Kochi National still stood in his name, the AFI told the ministry recently.

There was apparently no follow-up action to annul the results not just in Renjith’s case but in respect of dozens of similar dope-offenders years after they were sanctioned.

A mystery

It is a mystery why lower-placed athletes have not protested so far, especially since some of the meets also carried prize money and they might stand to benefit.

The SAI tried to pass the buck initially by pleading ignorance and then confirmed that it had the case file minus the AFI’s disciplinary proceedings.

The SAI tended to act as an appellate authority by going into the circumstances of the case and assessing the “serious” nature or otherwise of the stimulant and spread the word around that it could have been an “unintentional” violation.

It obviously trod into a domain beyond its role and functions.

As for the NADA, the lack of a database including all the pre-2009 cases had been hampering it through these past five years and it is time it started building one of its own.

K.P. Mohan is the former Athletics Correspondent of The Hindu

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