AFI unsure of Seema Punia’s whereabouts

Valson said that Seema had sent a mail informing AFI that she would join the Indian camp in Rio on July 24, a day before the Indians athletes arrive there for the Olympics.

Seema Punia had returned to India from the US sometime last month.   -  PTI

She was the country’s lone individual athletics gold medallist at the last Asian Games in Incheon but surprisingly, with just about 20 days to go for the Rio Olympics, nobody knows where discus thrower Seema Antil Punia is.Sources say that she might have gone to Russia for training but curiously, even the Athletics Federation of India is not clear about her whereabouts. She had returned to India from the US sometime last month.

“May be, but she has not told the federation where she has gone,” the AFI Secretary C.K. Valson told The Hindu on Thursday night when asked whether the discus thrower had gone to Russia. “And we have not given her permission to go to Russia, she has not sought our permission to go too.” Valson said that Seema had sent a mail informing AFI that she would join the Indian camp in Rio on July 24, a day before the Indians athletes arrive there for the Olympics.

But has she mentioned where she is currently? “Probably, she must have thought that it was not necessary. She is always outside India for training under the TOP (Target Olympic Podium) Scheme. She must have informed NADA and others but I don’t know about it,” said Valson. “We are not sure whether she has gone to Russia or whether she has gone to any of the former Soviet countries.” Athletics’ world body IAAF has banned Russia from the Olympics for a series of doping scandals and its anti-doping agency and accredited laboratory are also under suspension.

The Union Sports Ministry had recently sent an advisory to the Indian Olympic Association and national federations to keep away from dope-tainted countries for training purposes and to avoid engaging coaches from there. Russia and Ukraine were among the countries mentioned, according to reports. The 32-year-old Seema had hit a personal best of 64.84 in Kiev in 2004 but she never came close to it after that. She went to the US earlier this year and suddenly came up with an impressive 62.62m throw – her best in nearly 12 years – as she qualified for Rio (entry standard 61.0m) at Salinas in California.

Seema has had doping issues in the past. Her World junior gold (in 2000, India’s first) was taken away after she tested positive for a stimulant. And in 2006, she had tested positive a second time ahead of the 2006 Doha Asian Games but was exonerated by the AFI. She now appears to be in a spot again.

FILING FAILURE

Currently she has a charge of a ‘filing failure’ against her, which means that she did not inform NADA about her whereabouts. Athletes in a registered pool are supposed to give details of one hour every day where they would be available for dope-testing throughout the year. If they don’t file their whereabouts on a quarterly basis, it is considered as a ‘filing failure’. A combination of three failures, either a filing or a ‘whereabouts’ failure, will attract an anti-doping rule violation charge that can lead to a suspension of up to two years.

NADA, which according to reports did one sample collection recently at her home in Haryana, may find it difficult to conduct further tests on Seema if she has gone to Russia. It had enlisted the services of external agencies to test Indian athletes based then in Spala, Poland, last month but may find Russia difficult since even WADA and the UK agency (UKAD), which had been doing tests there on behalf of WADA, had reported recently that there were hurdles in tracking athletes for testing.