Hours before he was to be presented the Arjuna Award, triple jumper Renjith Maheswary was told under dramatic circumstances that he will have to wait for the coveted honour till an inquiry on whether he had failed a dope test five years back.
It is learnt that Sports Authority of India officials have told Maheswary that he would not be receiving the award on Saturday and if he comes clean after an inquiry, he would be presented with it at a later date.
Maheswary told reporters after meeting Sports Minister Jitendra Singh that he had been asked to wait till Monday.
“I met the Minister and clarified my stand. The minister has asked me to wait till Monday. They have not withdrawn my name from the list of awardees. They are holding it for some clarifications,” said the national record holder.
“I have been told (by officials) that it would be better not to attend the presentation function as the award had been put on hold,” said Maheswary who is in Delhi with his family members.
“I have done nothing wrong. I deserve the Award. No issues had been raised when I applied for the award in 2010, 2011 and 2012,” he said, alleging that efforts were being made to end his sporting career.
Asked if he had failed any dope test, Maheswary replied in the negative, saying that he had taken some medicines as there were some health issues.
It is, however, learnt that Maheswary indeed flunked a dope test during the National Open Athletics Championships in Kochi in September 2008 which was kept under wraps by the Athletics Federation of India.
“Yes, Renjith failed a dope test in 2008 in the 48th National Open Athletics Championships in the test conducted by the AFI. At that time the NDTL was not WADA accredited and we took the sample and sent it to the SAI laboratory. He failed the test for stimulant ephedrine,” a top AFI official told PTI.
Maheswary was handed just three—month suspension for the dope offence though he should have been banned for six months under normal procedure.
“We handed him six month suspension but the Appeals Panel decided to reduce the penalty to three months,” the AFI official said.
Alleging conspiracy by a North Indian lobby, Maheswary said the decision by the government to present him the award was taken at least 10-15 days ago and just hours before the presentation he had been informed to wait for the coveted honour.
“This is an insult. This decision was worse than the sentence being awarded to the Delhi and Mumbai gang rape accused,” an emotional Maheswary said.
The surprising thing is that how the AFI recommended Maheswary’s name to the Sports Ministry for the coveted award if it knew about Maheswary’s dope case.
None of the top AFI officials were ready to speak on how Maheswary’s name was recommended to the Ministry for the award.
“We recommended Maheswary’s name but I can’t comment on how this was done,” an AFI source said.
If Maheswary is found to have failed the dope test, then he will not be eligible for the award as the eligibility rule (4.2) as amended on March 15, 2010, clearly states that “sportspersons found positive for use of drugs banned by the International Olympic Committee in any laboratory accredited by the IOC will not be eligible for Arjuna Award”.
There was a precedent also as in 2002, shot-putter Bahadur Singh Sagoo of Punjab Police was not given the award despite winning the gold medal at the 2002 Busan Asian Games in the wake of doping allegations. It was another issue that Sagoo was later conferred the Padma Shri in 2006 as the government can give that award on it own.
Union Minister Kodikunnil Suresh said this was an ’unfortunate’ development and an insult to Kerala which has produced sportspersons who have done the nation proud.
27-year-old Maheswary had won a bronze in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and bagged a gold in the 2007 and 2013 Asian Athletics Championships. He bagged a silver in the Asian Athletics Championships in Pune in July.
He represented in 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and in two World Championships -- in 2011 and 2013 -- but failed to qualify in the final round in all these events.
In 2012 Olympics and 2011 World Championships, all his three attempts returned foul jumps.