Salwan Commission report: Unanswered questions

NEW DELHI NOV. 13. The Sushil Salwan Commission that probed the Sunita Rani doping case has pointed out several discrepancies in the Seoul laboratory's testing and procedures. It has, at the same time, left many crucial questions unanswered on the most important points in the Sunita doping issue itself, forgetting for a moment the inaccuracies that have crept into the report.

At least the report, as made available to media persons last Monday, just 15 pages of a 200-page compilation, does not answer many of the crucial questions that should have come up during the investigations and hearings that Mr. Salwan conducted over a three-week period.

Instead, we were given a set of papers which simply mentioned that there were annexures, containing statements, made among others, by Sunita, her coach Renu Kohli, Dr. Jawahar Jain, foreign recovery expert, Volodymyr Portrebenko and Dr (Mrs) Bimla Bhatia, scientific officer at NIS, Patiala. The annexures were not there.

What did these people state? For example, did Dr. Jain have anything to say about the reports that mentioned that he was trying to pass on something to Sunita in the interview room on the day she won the 1500 metres in the Busan Asian Games?

The Commission report is silent on the issue. The annexures, one understands, do contain all statements made by people who deposed before Mr. Salwan, including Dr. Jain.

Why was there a delay, if at all there was one, in accepting the urine sample of Sunita after the 1500 metres at the Busan dope control station? Did Mr. Salwan enquire about this?

Even though it came as an aside to an explanation that was being given about the need for the Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) to take Dr. Jain along to Busan, when he was not cleared by the Union Sports Ministry, Monday's press conference revealed, on a rather comical note, that Dr. Jain had to spend much of his time in the toilets at Busan's main stadium.

The reference was of course to the fact that Dr. Jain had to accompany athletes being herded into dope control areas. The question is, how could Dr. Jain be anywhere near the dope control toilets when he is prohibited from entering that part of the dope control station? A related question is, how was Dr. Jain seen accompanying Indian medal winners to almost all areas, including interview room and the room meant for ceremonies?

This is what the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) dope control procedural rules state: Rule 2.2: "A person (a team coach, a doctor or a team-mate of the competitor's delegation) may accompany the competitor to the doping control station and may watch all procedures except urination.''

It goes without saying that toilet is the area where the final sample-giving procedure is completed and there can only be one other person, apart from the competitor, present. That person is the doping control officer and that person will have to be of the same gender as the athlete.This is not only the OCA rule but also that of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The accompanying persons have no business or no right to cling on to their athletes at interview rooms or presentation areas. So, comes the question again, what was Dr. Jain doing in those areas? It is to be expected that Mr. Salwan had posed the same questions and received the answers.

On a different plane altogether is the role of another doctor. What did the `recovery expert', Dr. Portrebenko, state? Did he state that the medicines he had administered to the athletes came from the Sports Authority of India (SAI)? If that be so, did Mr. Salwan record any statement from the concerned SAI officers or is there a record of such medicines? Is there a record of the money spent on such medicines including expenses incurred on `supplements' in training camps in Ukraine and Belarus?

Will someone be able to verify whether the supplement, Hydroxystac, which Sunita Rani is presumed to have used, as per the Commission report, was not contaminated with any banned substance? Did the SAI chemically examine this supplement before giving it to the athletes? Does it contain caffeine, also a banned substance?

These are questions that will disturb those who feel that the truth about the whole doping controversy has not been spoken yet — might never be spoken — and it should lie somewhere between the NIS, Patiala, SAI, Delhi and the Busan dope control station.

It should also lie in the records of the SAI and its laboratory here. For, doubts are now being expressed whether Sunita's urine sample, collected at Patiala on September 30, was subjected to the whole range of testing at the SAI lab here. It might just be in this context that Mr. Salwan has recommended that the `B' sample of the September 30 specimen be tested again, at an IOC-accredited laboratory abroad.

However, it is debatable, and for the scientific community to comment upon, whether a DNA test could be carried out through a urine sample or whether there is any other test that could determine that the urine sample belonged to Sunita.

Obviously, the veracity of the sample itself has come into question and thus it is important to know what Dr. (Mrs.) Bhatia had to say before the commission, for, the latter, it is learnt, was the person who supervised the sample collection at Patiala.

Even though the `negative' that was obtained on Sunita's September 30 sample here and in any possible test that might be conducted abroad, on the `B' sample, will have no bearing on her positive tests at Busan or on the arguments that could be placed before the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) or any other authority, it has now become an interesting point of debate in this whole unfortunate episode.

The AAFI President, Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, who announced the findings of the Salwan Commission last Monday, stated that the September 30 `B' sample of Sunita will be tested abroad and a DNA test also carried out.

Now, to the inaccuracies in the Salwan Commission report.

It says: "The person giving the clarification justifies the reporting of the A191997 result (Sunita's sample after the 1500m) of 21ng/ml by citing the rules of the IOC MC which require concentration of nandrolone greater than the IOC cut-off limit of 5ng/ml for women to be reported to the IOC. Whilst the rule for reporting a positive result may exist (as it does), if the result obtained is an approximate and known to produce variable result on second testing, for valid or invalid reasons, it does not seem appropriate that any result over 5ng/ml be reported to the IOC (OCA MC) without an accurate second evaluation being carried out immediately after the first (within a few minutes or at the most within the hour) prior to reporting. In fact it is questioned here as to why a second testing of the same sample or even a fresh sample of the same individual was not carried out''

For someone, who seems to have taken great pains to understand the topic within a short period of time, Mr. Salwan has made an elementary mistake here. There is never a question of a fresh sample of the same individual being tested as part of a dope-control programme unless it is being done domestically in countries like ours.

For, a sample given on a particular date can never be duplicated on another date. If such sampling was allowed then there should not have been so much of fuss about competitors providing the first urine sample after a race, making sure that they are unable to take anything without the approval of the dope control officers and are not left outside the gaze of the latter.

As for a confirmatory test, without it the `positive' would not have been reported at all. That is to say that when an `A' sample has tested positive, a confirmatory test is always carried out as per rules to make sure that the substance tested is the same and that the levels are above permissible limits prescribed by the IOC.

A `B' sample test is only to make sure that the substance is the same and the athlete or his or her representative had the chance to verify that the seal of the bottle was broken in front of him or her or their representative.

The Olympic Movement Anti Doping Code (or simply the `Code' as it is known), that governs all international sport recognised by the IOC, states: "A second aliquot of the same sample is used for confirmation. Mass spectrometry (MS) is the only authorised confirmation method except for peptide hormones and glyco-proteins''.

As for the `B' sample testing, its different method and the criticism the Seoul lab has received, this is what the Code says: "Explain the analytical methods used in the analysis of the `A' sample and explain which analytical method will be used to analyse the `B' sample taking into account the result of the A sample.

As the purpose of the `B' analysis is only to demonstrate that the prohibited substance found in the `A' sample is also present in the `B' sample, the analytical strategy for the `B' analysis may be simpler than the one used for the A' sample, as far as the presence of the prohibited substance or its relevant metabolite is unambiguously established, at the direction of the Director of the laboratory.''

Mr. Salwan said that he had based his conclusions on the documents that were made available to him. He also stated on Wednesday that his argument about the confirmatory test was solely based on the assumption that a repeat test could have been done on the `A' sample after the `B' sample had turned out positive.

There is, however, no method by which an `opened' `A' sample could be retained for future testing.

Incidentally, Mr. Salwan is not proceeding to Monte Carlo to present the Sunita Rani case before the IAAF, as proposed by the AAFI President, Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, on Monday. The Delhi lawyer has politely turned down the request.

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