A boost for State-abetted doping?

What Santa Claus might not have intended, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has presented to Sunita Rani.

The Christmas Day news while being music to the ears of the dope-tainted Punjab athlete should cause concern among those who all along believed that international sports bodies were seriously engaged in formulating intricate, fool-proof anti-doping regulations and manoeuvres.

It now turns out, even as Sunita is poised to regain her Busan Asiad medals, that we were writing about a group of bungling `amateurs' in the garb of hardened `pros' when we used to mention the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and its Medical Committee.

That an IOC-accredited laboratory, with the highest ISO certification available, could not put together a bunch of papers that could stand scrutiny among peers should make one wonder what this anti-doping fuss is all about.

The simple truth is the OCA could not get its act together in just one serious `positive' case out of 794 tests conducted during the Asian Games unless, of course, it is now prepared to prove the supreme guardian of the Olympic Movement wrong, instead of swallowing its pride. If anything is left of that commodity, that is.

The IOC Medical Commission's decision, as communicated to the OCA Secretary-General and the IOC member in India, Randhir Singh, is not only a victory for Sunita, her family, supporters, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) but also for all those who keep parroting that there is no doping of any significance in India and "we are taking adequate steps'' to prevent doping and giving "exemplary punishment'' to the guilty.

A sub-committee of the IOC Medical Commission, meeting at Lausanne with independent observers and experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has found that because of the `poor quality' of documents provided and the `discrepancies' in the tests done on the samples under question, it was better for the relevant authorities not to pursue the case any longer.

The `poor quality' obviously has to be a reference to the plethora of procedural bunglings in Korea as pointed out by the Sushil Salwan Commission and the AAFI, and the `discrepancies' have to be the abnormally large variations in the nandrolone levels recorded in the `A' and `B' samples taken after Sunita's victory in the 1500 metres in Busan.

Maybe since there could be doubts about how readings of 21ng/ml of urine and 6ng/ml of urine were recorded in the post-1500m test, the other readings of 10ng and 7ng, after the 5000m, were not even taken up. No one has, of course, till now, stated that such readings are scientifically impossible and not sustainable in a legal perspective.

The question that should be posed now is not whether someone had tried to frame Sunita, as alleged by the athlete and the AAFI, whether the Seoul lab had turned in `false positives', as could be assumed pending a detailed clarification or action against the lab by the IOC or whether the IOC had stepped into a territory which till now was considered the domain of the OCA and the IAAF.

The question is, what prevented the OCA Medical Committee from understanding the fine print of scientific data while sifting through the papers in Busan? Where was the great hurry for the OCA to strip Sunita of the medals if its Task Force had not fully familiarised itself with the rules and regulations.

If the OCA MC had indeed the basic knowledge in understanding dope control reports then it should have found out the `discrepancy', which the IOC MC is perhaps talking about now. If the OCA committee could not spot any `mischief' or abnormality in readings of 21ng and 6ng (or 10ng and 7ng), then the wrong set of people were sitting on that panel or else the readings were scientifically explainable.

If, on the other hand, the IOC MC has pointed out the wrong dates in printouts, the signatures that do not tally with the names on the dope testing reports, the failure of the OCA MC representative to be present when Sunita's `B' samples were tested (as alleged by the AAFI) and the failure of the OCA MC to provide a written communication to the Indian delegation regarding the date and time of the `B' sample testing, then it should be admitted that all these procedural lacunae were very much familiar to the OCA MC when it met and decided on the fate of Sunita. It was also available to the Task Force, that includes the OCA Medical Committee Chairman, Dr. Yoshio Kuroda.

Now, Dr. Kuroda, along with the rest of the Task Force, has the unenviable task of reversing the decision without a shred of `fresh evidence' being placed before the panel or the OCA MC being given a chance to defend itself. Unless, we come to the conclusion that everything that the IOC MC has unearthed is `fresh' since the OCA MC was working in the dark, literally and figuratively.

This has the trappings of a unique case. Surely there might not have been too many cases of this type in the past (barring `false positives') where the IOC intervenes even as an international federation is considering the merits of the appeal from a National federation, where a regional association of the National Olympic Committees (OCA) is told to review its decision on a `positive' dope case, without the Court of Arbitration even being moved, where several people suddenly start noticing `discrepancies' that stood out so starkly right from the start when crucial decisions were taken.

The OCA regulations on dope-testing and procedures are so simple to follow (so also those available in the Olympic Movement Anti Doping Code, the basic document that governs the fight against doping in international sports) that anyone with some commonsense and an eye for laid-down procedures can prepare a check-list and run a drill before reporting a positive case.

If the OCA MC or the Task Force now accepts that it had failed to run through such a check-list, leading to an embarrassing, rather comical situation, then the committee members should resign and go. From both the Medical Committee and the Task Force.

It is to be presumed that the IOC has ruled that there were `false positives' in the Sunita Rani case and that the Seoul laboratory would face suspension followed by action that might or might not lead to the withdrawal of its accreditation.

If the IOC has simply pointed out a set of procedural bunglings, without terming the discrepancies as `false positives', then it could well have left the process to be completed by the OCA and the IAAF. Procedural mistakes are a dime a dozen in international dope testing and they often form the basis for such acquittals.

Otherwise it looks like an intervention outside the scope of the very `Code' that the IOC and WADA swear by. After all, the OCA was not contemplating any `further action' in the matter since it was beyond its purview while the IAAF was in the process of studying the material placed before it. At best the IOC could have given a `nudge' instead of forcing itself into a pre-emptive `strike'. Unless, as we stated above, there were `false positives'.

As for the Indian authorities, the IOC ruling has given a `boost' beyond imagination in their pursuit to aim for the elusive Olympic medals.

Even as committees rule that pre-departure testing of 300 to 400 sportspersons prior to major international sports events should continue, against all ethics, even as the SAI moves heaven and earth to get the much-awaited IOC accreditation for its laboratory in time for the proposed Afro-Asian Games next year, even as the IOA goes through its mock exercise of dope-testing procedures in the National Games, the demand for nandrolone and an assortment of banned drugs should increase manifold in India, and in such centres abroad where Indian sportspersons go for `specialised' training, following the latest IOC fiat.

The New Year beckons Sunita and Indian athletics in the post-Busan phase that in many ways had been an eye-opener. We hope Sunita will bring more laurels to the country without the talk of dope distracting anyone.

For that the AAFI and the SAI have to bare their hearts and prove to the world that Indian athletics is `clean.'