Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Discus thrower Neelam J. Singh has filed an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the decision of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to suspend her for an anti-doping rule violation at the last World championships. The appeal was filed on Friday, a day before the expiry of the one-month deadline for such a procedure, through fax and e-mail to the Lausanne-based court that exclusively deals with disputes in the field of sports.

"We were always convinced that there never was any room for the charge. When she hasn't done anything wrong, there is no point in accepting such a decision without challenging it," said Neelam's husband and coach, Jaswant Singh, on Saturday.

Pressure from IAAF

A four-member disciplinary panel of the AFI had initially reprieved Neelam, giving her the `benefit of doubt', but apparently under pressure from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the panel reviewed its decision and handed out a verdict of "guilty" on April 24 last. Neelam was formally conveyed the decision after more than a week.

Neelam was charged with a positive for the stimulant pemoline at the World championships in Helsinki in August last year and provisionally suspended by the IAAF. She has steadfastly stuck to her argument that she never took any banned substance knowingly.

Neelam's counsel, Sushil Salwan, had pointed out several procedural discrepancies in the manner in which the IAAF had handled her case and found holes in the documentation package made by the WADA-accredited laboratory in Helsinki. In particular, he had pointed out discrepancies in signatures and dates in the laboratory documentation and contended that no confirmatory tests were carried out on Neelam's `B' sample.

However, more than these irregularities, the most important ground that Mr. Salwan is expected to argue on would be the very procedure by which the AFI re-opened the case after the panel had given a verdict of `not guilty'. A disciplinary panel did not have the right to review a case and it could only have been reviewed on an appeal from the IAAF to CAS, Mr. Salwan has argued. Moreover, he saw no provision for the AFI, the prosecuting agency, to give directions or clarifications to the panel after a verdict had been given.Mr. Salwan would be expected to file an `appeal brief' within 15 days of having conveyed his intent to appeal. He has already filed a statement of appeal. Within 30 days of receipt of the brief, the respondent (AFI) should file a reply. The IAAF will have the right to be a party at the hearing.

The CAS decision will be binding on all parties. Neelam has completed more than nine months of her two-year suspension period so far.

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