In a dramatic twist in a case that looked never-ending, weightlifter Monika Devi has all but pleaded ‘guilty' to a charge of anti-doping rule violation.
Appearing before the Anti-Doping Disciplinary panel headed by Sudhir Nandrajog on Monday, Monika's lawyer Ramesh Kumar withdrew himself from the proceedings and allowed the weightlifter to make a statement.
In a written statement, Monika said that she was no longer interested in contesting the panel proceedings and she expressed the hope that she would be given the most lenient punishment under the rules.
The panel will now decide the final sanction with less than two months left for the completion of two years since the collection of her first urine sample in the case in question.
However, in dispute will be the commencement date of her ineligibility, whether to go back to June 6, 2008 when her first sample was collected or to start the suspension from the date of the hearing decision as dictated by the rules.
The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) is seeking a two-year suspension from the date of hearing decision. Monika's lawyer had already indicated last January that his client was looking forward to the sample collection date.
The Indian Weightlifting Federation, while provisionally naming the Manipuri lifter among the Commonwealth Games core probables — pending her clearance by the panel — had announced that in the worst case her suspension can go up to June this year only, almost pre-judging the decision of the panel.
Monika seemed to have reached a stage in the hearings where she could hope to get a complete reprieve because of procedural irregularities. Her stand on Monday thus came as a surprise.
There were several loopholes in the ‘prosecution' case, especially the legality of continuing with a ‘B' sample testing in the WADA-accredited laboratory in Tokyo when the ‘A' sample was tested in a non-accredited lab in Delhi.
Having tied itself into knots about the status of the Delhi lab, in June 2008 (the lab gained WADA accreditation only in September, 2009), NADA seemed to have committed itself to the validity of a test that can have no legal sanctity.
Several explanations were given during the hearings about the laboratory having gained ISO17025 certification and it being under accreditation process, but there is no room within the NADA rules or the WADA Code to give any concession as far as testing at an accredited laboratory goes.
The Nandrajog panel has been left with an unenviable task. It has to decide the commencement of the suspension period with no record of a provisional suspension of the lifter available.
In fact Monika was exonerated by an Indian Weightlifting Federation panel immediately after being prevented from going to Beijing in August, 2008.
The panel has to see under what rules it can tackle her sanctions since NADA rules say if a case dates back to the time when the NADA rules had not come into existence then it would be handled according to the old rules under which it was dealt with.
All rules, whether old or new, would show that the panel can impose sanctions only if tests are done at accredited laboratories.