For more than two years, the ‘positive’ tests for methylhexaneamine (MHA) have raised more questions than any other substance in the Prohibited List issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). And the debate continues despite every effort made by the anti-doping authorities to explain the possibility of supplements contamination and to plug loopholes in the rules.

The varying sanctions for MHA offences given by different anti-doping organisations the world over have at the same time made matters rather complicated for disciplinary and appeal panels.

On Monday, before a National appeal panel headed by Justice C.K. Mahajan (retd.), the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) argued that Manipur judoka Nirupama Devi should not be let off with a mere reprimand for an MHA offence, reported for a sample collected in January this year, as decreed by the disciplinary panel, and should be suspended. The panel reserved its order.

Nirupama’s claim

The disciplinary panel had found her argument about having used beauty products of VLCC and they having caused the ‘positive’ test convincing. Nirupama claimed that these products, freely available in the market, contained geranium oil and this oil had led to the adverse analytical finding.

The NADA based its arguments for a harsher sanction on several points including one that latest research showed that geranium oil did not contain MHA. It also stated that there was no proof to support the argument that she had applied these products prior to the test.

The point about latest research was dismissed by Justice Mahajan as unacceptable since the contention had not been made during the disciplinary panel hearing.

The defence lawyer, Anish Dayal, pointed out the contradiction in the NADA stand, stating that it had contended during disciplinary panel hearing that geranium oil did contain MHA, quoting a WADA explanatory note, and it was now trying to prove the opposite.

No supporting research

The NADA, however, maintained that if latest research could not be depended upon to prove this point, there was also no research to support the defence’s contention that the beauty aids containing geranium oil had led to the judoka’s ‘positive’ test.

The WADA actually did not state in its clarification in October last year that geranium oil contained MHA. It simply warned, “some stimulants may be available under several other names, for example ‘methylhexaneamine’, sometimes presented as dimethylamylamine, pentylamine, geranamine, Forthane, 2-amino-4-methylhexane, geranium root extract or geranium oil. “

NADA’s argument

The NADA’s contention that there was no evidence to suggest that creams, lotions etc. containing geranium oil, could produce enough concentration of MHA in the blood stream to cause a ‘positive’ test for the substance in the urine sample, was rejected by the disciplinary panel on the argument that it could not produce any “corroborative evidence” to support this theory.

However, in all the known MHA cases adjudicated by various panels across the world, there has not been an instance of any panel having ruled in favour of an athlete based on the argument of oil absorption leading to a ‘positive’ MHA finding.

In a large majority of cases in the UK, where the maximum reduced sanctions have been handed out, such concession was given only after laboratory tests proved that the supplement in question did contain MHA or was contaminated by MHA, with athletes having taken due care to verify its integrity.

The NADA on Monday made a desperate plea that it be allowed to bring fresh evidence based on tests conducted in the laboratory after urine samples are collected from volunteers who could be made to use the VLCC products in question. That plea was not accepted.

In 25 cases of MHA ‘positives’ brought before the disciplinary panels in India so far, Nirupama’s is the first that has resulted in a mere ‘reprimand’. Fifteen sportspersons had been suspended for two years for MHA violations, with two of them, Chandan Lakra (taekwondo), and Bhupinder Singh (athletics) having recently appealed against their suspensions.

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