After the issue made front pages for over a week, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has exonerated Narsingh Pancham Yadav, India’s Olympic wrestling medal hopeful, of doping charges. Yadav said he did not know how an anabolic steroid, Methyldienolone, entered his system — hinting at a possible sabotage angle. He reiterated that he had no intention of using the substance to enhance his performance at the Rio Olympic Games.
This case reminds me of the infamous Sanjay Dutt case, where the actor confessed that he had kept custody of AK-56 rifles but had no intention of using use them. The trial court did not find any merit in his argument and sent him to jail.
In the case of Yadav, he has been cleared because he successfully argued that it was an obvious case of sabotage.
The present NADA panel’s verdict on Yadav has in a way offered a way out for those accused of doping to escape punishment in future. Anyone who wants to take a banned substance only has to ask a colleague to mix it with his food. When a positive test emerges, the athlete can claim that he did not take it intentionally, and it might have been administered to him by someone else. To substantiate this argument, his colleague can come before the hearing panel and confess that he mixed the banned substance in the food.
But this is to take an extreme view. Exonerating the athlete by saying there was a sabotage is not an easy verdict, especially when the drug in question is an anabolic steroid and the athlete is a week away from participation in the Olympic Games. It is understood that the NADA hearing panel had strong evidence and witnesses to support the sabotage theory. Such a contention becomes significant when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code states that the onus of proving how the substance has entered the body rests with the athlete concerned. This is especially important in the case of anabolic steroids, a non-specified substance under the WADA code, in which the sanctions are stringent.
It is understood that the hearing panel constituted by the NADA is an independent body and the NADA is not bound to go by the verdict of the panel. It has to review the order and inform the United World Wrestling Federation and the WADA about the appeal, if any, to be filed in this case. Since Yadav is an international athlete in the WADA Registered Testing Pool, the WADA, without waiting to consult the NADA, can file an appeal against the NADA panel’s decision before the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). If the WADA goes slow in filing this, the IOC Medical Commission can step in and go to the CAS with an appeal. There is a strong possibility that Yadav’s case will go to the CAS now.
There is another interesting angle to the NADA order. If the CAS overturns the NADA panel’s verdict and slaps sanctions on Yadav, then India ’s will not have an entry in the 74-kg weight category. The blame will then rest squarely on the NADA panel for having passed an order in favour of Yadav.
PSM Chandran is president, Indian Federation of Sports Medicine, and former director (sports medicine), Sports Authority of India
The views expressed are personal