Rattled by media reports that have claimed that boxer Vijender Singh had taken the banned recreational drug, heroin, the Union Sports Ministry on Monday asked the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) to carry out a test on the Olympic medallist.
In a letter, the Ministry has asked the anti-doping body to test Vijender “even out-of-competition for the reported use of heroin.”
Referring to the media reports which quoted Punjab police officials claiming that Vijender had taken heroin 12 times, the Sports Ministry said, “such reports in respect of a sporting icon are disturbing and may have a debilitating influence on other sportspersons in the country. It has, therefore, been considered necessary that NADA gets a test carried out on Vijender.
“The communication has asked NADA to carry out the test immediately under intimation to the Ministry,” said a release issued by the Sports Ministry on Monday.
The question here is, can the Ministry direct NADA, an autonomous body, to carry out any dope test?
“We can request them,” said Sports Secretary P.K. Deb.
Since the fundamental principle of any out-of-competition testing revolves around maintaining secrecy about the intent, time and the agency conducting the test (with an aim not to alert the athlete beforehand) and the identity of the athlete (to carry out a fair process), is it appropriate on the part of the Ministry to send a specific request for a test on a certain athlete?
Deb defended the decision. “I do not think there is anything wrong. At present even we do not know where he is.”
The moot point is since heroin (narcotics) is listed by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as a drug which is banned in-competition, if NADA tests Vijender out-of-competition it will go against the regulations laid down by apex anti-doping body.
Even if Vijender tests positive in an out-of-competition test, then he cannot be charged with any anti-doping violation.
Can the NDTL test for heroin from an out-of-competition sample since the substance has to be tested only during the testing of an in-competition sample and there is no competition going on at present in which Vijender is competing?
That is another crucial question that the NDTL, which is also supposed to be an independent agency, will have to answer.
The other problem will be protecting the identity of the athlete. In order to achieve that, NADA has to take care and send Vijender’s sample along with several other samples as sending a single sample for testing in the National Doping Testing Laborotary (NDTL) may invite the danger of disclosure of the athlete’s identity. So, NADA may have to wait for some time to collect some other samples as well.
Such a test on Vijender may turn out to be a futile task as almost a month’s time has already elapsed since the ace boxer’s close friend Ram Singh alleged that the Olympic medallist had consumed heroin.
A urine sample can detect traces of a banned drug within a few weeks of its consumption, whereas a blood sample can help detect a substance up to a period of one and half months.
Testing a hair sample may provide some concrete evidence. However, it is not clear whether NADA has the jurisdiction and the NDTL has the facilities to test a hair sample.
NADA, on its website, has stated that its test distribution plan may include blood and urine samples, while NDTL maintains that it is accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) (2003) and WADA (2008) for testing of urine and blood samples from humans.
During his interrogation by Punjab police, Vijender had refused to give his urine and blood samples. Punjab police have moved court to seek Vijender’s samples for testing.
However, since the process does not fall in line with the WADA regulations, the result of any such test will not have any bearing on the ace boxer’s sporting career.
The ministry letter to NADA has just added another twist to the controversy.