Twenty months after she was prevented from taking off for Beijing for participation in the Olympic Games, Monika Devi was on Wednesday slapped with a two-year suspension that will end in June this year, clearing the way for her participation in the Commonwealth Games.
Doubts remained, however, on Wednesday afternoon over the Manipuri weightlifter's Commonwealth Games prospects as the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) lawyers indicated that they would look into the order in detail before saying anything on a possible appeal.
The usually-effervescent Monika was glum-faced immediately after the operative part of the five-page order was read out by Anti-Doping Disciplinary panel Chairman Sudhir Nandrajog. For, a casual observation was made by the ‘prosecution' lawyer Rahul Kumar that the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) rules, from March, 2008, stipulated a four-year sanction for a first-time doping offence.
Monika's anti-doping rule violation for testosterone, dates back to June, 2008. Her eventual sanction was applied on the rules of the IWF, as they existed at the time of her sample collection (June 6, 2008), though her ‘positive' was confirmed only through a ‘B' sample testing done at the WADA-accredited Tokyo laboratory on January 15, 2009.
The interest in the case centred round the date of commencement of the suspension once Monika made a tacit admission last Monday that she had violated the rules, though unwittingly. Under the NADA rules, with which the case started last January, she would have been suspended from the date of the decision, providing for a deduction of any provisional suspension period she might have undergone.
Since August, 2008, Monika had not undergone any provisional suspension, though, as she pointed out, she had not been able to compete in any competition during the intervening period.
A sympathetic disciplinary panel found a legitimate way out in the NADA rules that prohibited application of the rules retroactively, thereby bringing in the relevant IWF rules (2008) to decide on the matter.
However, one crucial point seems to have been overlooked by the panel, that of a four-year suspension prescribed by the IWF for a first-time offence since March 2008 through an Executive Board decision.
The Indian Weightlifting Federation Secretary, Sahdev Yadav, told The Hindu on Wednesday that the four-year ban would not be applicable to domestic testing.
(IWF rules are silent on different application of rules for national-level testing, though in practice the federation does resort to its own interpretations of rules in certain cases.)
Yadav said Monika would undergo two re-instatement tests, to be conducted by the federation, in May and June, before being inducted into the National camp. He said Manipur would be penalised Rs. 50,000 as a fine for the offence committed by Monika.
Asked if she was not happy that she had received a suspension that would end very soon, Monika said: “Why should I be happy? An athlete has many dreams to realise. Only then can one be happy.”
The panel's ruling was based on the 2008 IWF rules regarding commencement of the ineligibility period that stated that it had to be from the date of sample collection.
By going back to the IWF rules, apparently in an effort to give a ‘fair sanction', the panel might have unwittingly opened up a debate about a stiffer punishment for Monika under the revised sanctions of the International Federation.
NADA will have 14 days to appeal before the Anti-Doping Appeal panel headed by retired High Court Judge C.K. Mahajan.