The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has been forced to revert to the two-year ban for first-time dope offenders following a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in an appeal related to a four-year suspension of a Chinese weightlifter.

The IWF had brought in the four-year suspension rule for first-time dope offenders in March, 2008 before the Beijing Olympics, apparently in an effort to protect the sport’s image amidst mounting numbers of ‘dopers’ and its eagerness to retain its status as an Olympic sport.

The World Anti Doping Code prescribes a two-year suspension for first-time offenders, with an extended ban running up to four years for ‘aggravating circumstances’.

All the international federations and National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) follow this rule.

The change from the four-year ban to two years that came into effect last September have benefited more than 100 weightlifters around the world — not counting those who cases could be under hearing process — including three Indian lifters.

The three Indian lifters are: Harbhajan Singh, Bijiya Devi and Sunita Rani, all of whom were suspended for four years in September 2009 following an IWF swoop on a training camp in Pune and subsequent ‘positive’ tests for steroids. Their suspensions are now deemed to have ended on September 6, 2011.

The IWF list also shows Vicky Batta and Rajesh Kumar Singh, who were also in the Pune batch, as having ended their ‘two-year suspensions’ by September, 2011. However, both had been suspended for life by the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) in March, 2010 ruling that the Pune infractions were their second offences.

Another lifter, who tested positive in the same Pune batch, Shailaja Pujari of Andhra Pradesh, had been banned for life for her second offence in 2009 by the IWF.

The CAS verdict which came in July last on an appeal filed by China’s Beijing Olympic champion and 2009 World champion Liao Hui upheld the decision of the IWF panel that the athlete had committed an anti-doping rule violation but refused to accept the federation’s argument that it could impose a sanction other than the two-year ban prescribed in the Code.

Liao Hui had tested positive for steroid boldenone in September, 2010 just before the World championships in Antalaya, Turkey.

Despite retaining its four-year ban clause, the IWF was termed as Code compliant by the WADA . Even for ‘aggravating circumstances’, the IWF had a different rule (six years maximum) compared to the four years stipulated in the Code.

Neither the IWF arguments nor the WADA’s certification that the federation was compliant as per its monitoring programme cut much ice with the CAS panel.

It quoted liberally from the CAS decision that threw out the International Olympic Committee’s verdict last year to extend a doping ban to the next Olympics.

It also went into the issue of “aggravating circumstances” and noted that just because of a “special situation” in weightlifting (rampant doping) it did not qualify as aggravated circumstances.

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