Ever since the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) brought methylhexaneamine (MHA) into the Prohibited List, the substance has courted controversy. So has the application of Article 10.4 in the WADA Code, which allows the reduction of punishment in a set of substances classified ‘specified substances’.

MHA which comes under ‘specified stimulants’, was banned by the WADA in the 2010 Prohibited List. Thanks to the information available on the internet, it was taken for granted that MHA was an ingredient of geranium oil or geranium root extract, both natural products, and could be inadvertently ingested by an athlete through a variety of supplements and beauty aids.

The claim that geranium oil contained MHA, even at a very low level of 0.66 per cent, has since been challenged by researchers. There is also no evidence so far of creams and oils containing geranium having been absorbed by the body to return a ‘positive’ test for MHA.

In India, MHA offenders generally received two-year suspensions till a disciplinary panel headed by Dinesh Dayal handed out a ‘reprimand’ to judoka Nirupama Devi  in July, 2012, after she tested positive for  the substance. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) went in appeal without success.

Even as a verdict in an appeal by the WADA in the Nirupama case is expected from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) comes the decision by the National Anti-Doping Appeal panel (NADAP) in the Jyotsana Pansare case.

The Pansare claim has been compared with that in the Nirupama case in the verdict and that has given an entirely new twist to the MHA debate in India.

The panel headed by Justice (retd.) M.L. Varma has not only reduced the swimmer’s suspension from two years to one year but it has also set aside the disciplinary panel’s ruling that all her results achieved from sample collection date be annulled and her prizes be forfeited.

This decision seems to have been given on the presumption that Pansare had used face packs and other cosmetic products containing geranium oil and that had caused the ‘positive’ test.

Throughout its order, the Varma panel seems to suggest that the disciplinary panel headed by Dayal did not take up the case under Article 10.4 (‘specified substances’) which could have been applied to give her a reduced sanction and instead had punished her under article 10.2 (standard sanction).

This is not true. Judge Dayal began the Pansare’s trial — as he did with 10 other cases which were taken up together with the swimmer’s — under Article 10.4, but concluded after two years of arguments that the athlete had failed to establish grounds for elimination of eligibility period under Article 10.4. All the other 10 also received two year sanctions and their appeals are pending.

In order to get a reduced sanction under Article 10.4, an athlete has to first establish how the banned substance entered his/her body and then establish that it was not taken to enhance performance. The athlete also had to corroborate his/her claims.

The Varma panel has however, ruled in the Pansare case:   “The Tribunal is of the view that MHA entered the athlete’s body by use of cosmetic face pack etc…”

The disciplinary panel order, in contrast, quotes Pansare as having made a general statement: “MHA is present in a number of products used in daily routine, e.g. bath soap perfume oil, face package etc.”  

NADA’s contention that the swimmer had brought in fresh claims at the appeal stage was dismissed.

It was not clear whether the panel reduced the suspension to one year in Pansare’s case because of the ‘discrepancies’ in documentation package supplied by the laboratory, which it took serious note of, or because of its ‘finding’ that she had met the requirements under Article 10.4.

MHA does not attract provisional suspension under the NADA rules. Thus, the decision on annulment of results may set a precedent and could come in handy for those aspiring to compete in a major competition if he or she tests positive for MHA just prior to that and a panel, after a year or later, returns a verdict of ‘guilty’ without disqualifying all the results.

Constant adjournment requests can then turn out to be very useful for the athlete.

K.P. Mohan is a former athletics correspondent of The Hindu

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