Sunita Rani tests positive

SHORT LIVED ECSTASY: India's Sunita Rani, who won the women's 1,500m gold on Thursday, has tested positive for a performance boosting drug at the 14th Asian Games in Busan on Sunday. — Photo: V. Sudershan

SHORT LIVED ECSTASY: India's Sunita Rani, who won the women's 1,500m gold on Thursday, has tested positive for a performance boosting drug at the 14th Asian Games in Busan on Sunday. — Photo: V. Sudershan  

BUSAN OCT. 13. The unthinkable has happened. Sunita Rani has tested positive for a banned substance. If the `B' sample also turns positive and the charge holds, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) will strip her of the medals she won in these Asian Games, the gold in the 1,500m and the bronze in the 5,000m.

The news, broken by the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Sunday morning, was confirmed by the Busan Asian Games Organising Committee (BAGOC) in the evening and corroborated by India's Chef de Mission, Jagdish Tytler.

As mediapersons debated about who had jumped the gun and who was telling the truth and whether procedures were followed while confirming the doping violation, the stark reality had to be accepted. India's most talented, one of the most talked-about and most decorated athletes, has been found positive on as big a stage as the Asian Games.

Many arguments will be made in the coming days, many rules quoted, many a tricky defence put up, but the stain will remain. For those, trying to find an answer to India's all-round strength in athletics, especially the Chinese, this might just be the answer, though many genuine performances will also be doubted from now onwards.

As Mr. Tytler addressed the media in the Main Media Centre on Sunday evening, explaining the sequence of events, leading up to Sunday's explosive revelation, one couldn't stop thinking about the inevitability of it all.

To put the sequence in perspective: The Indian contingent was informed on Saturday through a letter from the OCA Medical Commission about the suspect doping case on Sunita, conducted after her 1,500m victory last Thursday.

The Chef de Mission, along with the Amateur Athletic Federation of India (AAFI) Secretary, Mr. Lalit Bhanot, Dr. Jawahar Jain and Sunita appeared before the Commission for a hearing. Sunita denied having taken any substance or medicine, barring Live-52, a liver tonic.

The `B' sample test was requested, as per procedure, and agreed upon.

It will be done in Seoul on October 25.

The Indian side tried to argue that the second test could be done in Bangkok at its cost, but rules were quoted to say that the test would have to be done in Seoul only.

Seoul has an International Olympic Committee (IOC) accredited lab where the urine samples from these Games are being tested.

The OCA has not heard anything from its Medical Commission on the matter. As and when it gets a report, its Task Force, headed by its Secretary-General, Randhir Singh, will discuss it and take a decision.

Depending on the OCA decision and that of the AAFI at a later date, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will get into the picture to suspend the athlete.

A two-year ban is the minimum punishment for a steroid positive.

It was the BAGOC Deputy Secretary-General, Lee Choon-Sup, while addressing the media at a farewell press conference, who jumped the gun and mentioned the athlete as India's Sunita Rani.

No one was willing to be quoted as to what the substance was that was found in Sunita's urine sample. International wire agencies, however, mentioned it as nandrolone.

Two points need to be emphasised here. Nandrolone is a long-acting muscle-building steroid, normally used by sprinters and throwers.

The tests carried out at the SAI lab in Delhi would have detected nandrolone, unless the drug or its derivative was consumed after the tests in SAI on September 30 or after arriving here.

Indian mediamen, who were in the interview room the day Sunita won the 1,500m felt that something was amiss the way Dr. Jawahar Jain, the athletics team doctor, and Sunita Rani acted in front of dope control officials.

The fact that dope control officers were very lax in their monitoring of the athletes and officials accompanying them has been reported in these columns.

Their efforts to get Dr. Jain away from Sunita Rani, or any other Indian medal winner, did not exactly bear fruit. This was shocking, to say the least.

It was explained by an official that Sunita as well as a few other women athletes were given medicines to control their menstrual cycles. Why a team doctor should try to give such a medicine just after an event and that too in the interview room defies logic.

It is pertinent to recall here that some years ago, Sri Lankan Susanthika Jayasinghe had received a reprieve after it was found that she had taken medicines to control her menstrual cycles and such a medicine had led to a positive test.

An argument is also being made out why Sunita was allowed to compete in the 5,000m if the positive result was known earlier. This is for the Indian side to work on. Another point that is likely to aid Sunita could be the possibility of a second sample (not `B' sample) collected after the 5,000m, turning negative.

Though there is nothing in the rules which suggests that such a negative result could be considered while viewing a positive result earlier, this could come in handy. If the post-5,000m sample also tests positive, which should be the case, in case the drug is nandrolone, then nothing will be able to save Sunita.

For a girl who was such a bright prospect from a very young age, winning bronze medals in the Asian junior championships in 1996 and 1997 and making a mark even at the World junior championships in Sydney, Sunita had to endure the pain of an injury-forced lay-off in 2000 and 2001. She made a triumphant comeback this season and set two National records here, catching the attention of the international media.

Should the athlete be blamed for the mess that she finds herself in now? Or should it be the federation or the Sports Authority of India?

Irrespective of what the eventual verdict would be in the case of Sunita, doping has been and continues to be rampant in Indian athletics (and weightlifting).

The sooner the authorities, especially the Union Sports Ministry accept it, the better. There will be little point in setting up enquiry panels.

No point in finding scapegoats as was done after the Manchester Commonwealth Games where two Indian weightlifters tested positive. The SAI lab should no longer be used as a monitoring agency.

That is the first step that the Government has to take. The rest will follow. If anti-doping is what we are supporting.

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