Shailaja Pujari has tested positive again. We have heard it at least once in the past, but the Andhra woman had surprisingly avoided a life ban. This time, though, it looks like it is the end of her career.
Normally, in anti-doping parlance, the words ‘positive again’ would have meant the end of the road for the athlete concerned in his or her career, unless there are exceptional circumstances or the substance happened to be within a particular group that could attract leniency. A second violation normally means a life ban.
Not in Pujari’s case, however. Prior to testing positive at the Junior National in Chennai in 2003, she had returned a ‘positive’ in domestic trials in the year 2000, but technicalities prevented a suspension then.
Pujari tested positive again in 2006 in a WADA test before the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) imposed a two-year suspension on her.
Pujari’s return in April 2008 was also controversial since the authorities allowed her to compete in the trials for the Asian championships before completing the re-instatement testing. Even the re-instatement testing did not fulfil the requirements.
In all instances, Pujari had tested positive for steroids. In the latest case too, she is reported to have come ‘positive’ for a steroid. She was tested by the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) in Bangalore on August 27.
She is learnt to have undergone at least two other tests after that, one of them by a team from WADA in Pune.
The WADA team collected a large number of samples prior to the trials for the Commonwealth championships (Penang, October 18 to 23) and so far one of them, belonging to Punjab’s 56-kg lifter Vicky Batta, has been reported as ‘positive’ for a diuretic.
Like Pujari, Batta also faces a life ban since this is his second offence. It is not known whether Pujari also tested positive in the WADA test, possibly conducted on behalf of the IWF.
‘B’ sample test
Both Batta, silver winner in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, and Pujari, multiple gold winner in the Manchester Commonwealth Games, would have the right to seek the ‘B’ sample test within seven days of the laboratory’s notification, according to rules in the International Standards for Laboratories (2009).
An Indian federation official, however, claimed on Tuesday that Batta would have 15 days to respond while Pujari had just two more days left of her seven. The testing authority can, however, go ahead with the ‘B’ sample testing even without a request from the athlete, with an independent observer in attendance.
Even if Pujari or Batta does not seek the ‘B’ sample test, their guilt for an anti-doping rule violation can only be established and a sanction imposed after going through a hearing process.
In the case of Pujari, the hearing process will be conducted by the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel, with the case being processed by NADA, the first high-profile case that NADA would be handling in its testing programme.
Batta’s case will be handled by the international federation.
NADA has already initiated the process on Pujari by sending its first notice.
Sources told The Hindu on Tuesday that one more woman lifter, Maharashtra’s Priyadarshini, a junior, had tested positive in recent tests conducted by the NADA.
IWF can suspend a National federation for up to two years from participating in any of its activities, apart from imposing stiff fines, in case three of the country’s lifters test positive in a 12-month period. However, only tests conducted by an international agency or an international event organiser would count.
In the latest instance, only the case of Batta would be considered for such a suspension. Going back, the suspension of Kavita Devi in April 2008 would not count either since that will not fit into the 12-month period.
With the Commonwealth championships and Commonwealth Youth championships coming up, there is anxiety among the fraternity that further ‘positive’ cases may even jeopardise India’s chances in next year’s Commonwealth Games.
India has been slapped with one-year suspensions twice since 2004 after three or more of its lifters tested positive.