Meldonium possession: A case of a forgotten old bag?

Possession of a banned substance is a violation of the WADA rules since 2003 and, if found guilty, Jithin could face a four-year ban.

Jithin Paul (No.402) of Kerala has been provisionally suspended after he was found possessing meldonium.   -  R. Ragu

Indian athletes at the national camp were frequent users of the meldonium drug before it was included in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list in January 2016, revealed a top quartermiler.

Kerala’s Jithin Paul, the national champion hurdler from the Railways and a prominent 400m runner, has now been provisionally suspended after a National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) raid at the national camp at the NIS in Patiala last month found the drug and syringes in the athlete’s room. Later, after tests, it was confirmed as meldonium, a banned substance. It was the first time the NADA had brought forward a charge of possession of a banned drug against an athlete after it was formed some eight years ago.

EVERYBODY USED IT EARLIER

“Everybody used to use it earlier, it was a recovery drug and ensures that your body does not tighten up. Jithin had also used it in 2015 but had stopped it after he came to know that it had become a banned substance in 2016 and had just kept it away,” said Arokia Rajiv, the 2014 Incheon Asian Games 400m bronze medallist, in a chat with Sportstar from Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, where the national relay runners undergo training.

Arokia, a former national 400m record holder and a star of the Indian men’s 4x400m relay team, felt that Jithin could have forgotten about the old bag of drugs and that could be one reason why he had failed to destroy them.

“Since, we had gone to Turkey and to other foreign countries last year, he must have forgotten about the drug which was in his room. I don’t know why he kept the drug with him, it was in an old bag…or he must have thought of giving it to some heart patient. I really don’t know.”

TESTED 15 TIMES BEFORE RIO

Jithin, a member of the relay team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Asian Games in Incheon in 2014, had been tested often in the run-up to last year’s Olympics, revealed Arokia.

“He trains with us and in 2016, he had given dope tests some 15 times before the Rio Olympics. So, if he had used the drug in 2016, he would have surely been caught,” explained Arokia.

“He was also tested during the recent Indian Grand Prix and in the Indian camp and he has not tested positive which means he has not used it. They have called him for an enquiry and now he has left for Patiala.”

Possession of a banned substance is a violation of the WADA rules since 2003 and, if found guilty, Jithin could face a four-year ban.

Indian athletes have been under the scanner for the last few years for the strange highs in their performance in the run-up to major championships followed by surprising lows and with the Asian Championships (in Bhubaneswar in July) and World Championships (London, August) lined up this year, they will come under close scrutiny.

Meldonium, a cardiac drug, became famous after it brought Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova a 15-month suspension last year.