In June last year, the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) suspended M. R. Poovamma, one of the most bemedaled quarter-milers in the country, for three months for an anti-doping rule violation.
The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which brought forward the doping charge for an MHA violation, appealed that decision to the Anti-Doping Appeal Panel (ADAP). The ADAP On 17 September 2022, set aside the order of the ADDP and imposed a two-year suspension on the Karnataka athlete. The suspension is supposed to end on June 15, 2024.
However, Poovamma competed in the heats of the 400m in the Sri Lankan National Championships on Friday. She finished seventh with a timing of 56.20s in the final on Saturday. Naturally, the question was raised, who allowed her back into competition earlier than scheduled?
AFI explains Poovamma’s comeback
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) explained that it had received a letter from NADA, on a query it raised about the ineligibility period of the runner, stating that she was eligible to compete!
Apparently, the logic was that the suspension, even though for two years, would be dated back to the sample collection date, which was 18 February 2021, the day of the Indian Grand Prix I at Patiala. So, by the logic that NADA applied, the two-year suspension ended on 17 February 2023. Poovamma competed towards the end of July 2023 and that must have been the argument.
AFI president, Adille Sumariwalla, told Sportstar on Saturday that Poovamma had approached the federation to find out whether she was now eligible and whether the latter would have any objection to her participation in the Sri Lankan meet.
Sumariwalla said that consequently, the AFI had written to NADA which in turn wrote back to inform that she was cleared for participation. The NADA communication through an e-mail to AFI was dated June 16, 2023. It was sent by its Law Officer, Yasser Arafat, the AFI chief said.
The suspension dilemma
On whose authority could it have been done? Does NADA have any powers to cut down on the duration of a suspension or to backdate the period of ineligibility on its own without going back to either the ADDP or the ADAP as could have been expected depending on which panel gave the ultimate ruling that led to the suspension?
Had there been a “case resolution agreement” after a prompt admission by the athlete, then NADA, in consultation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) could have backdated the start of the ineligibility period to the sample collection date provided the athlete accepted the offence and the consequences that would be agreed upon by NADA and WADA.
A hearing panel has the discretion to push back the start of the ineligibility period to the sample collection date, depending on the circumstances. Normally, the type of offence, the substance in question, any delay in proceedings and a request, if any from the athlete or counsel, would be considered by a panel dating back to the suspension.
In the case of provisional suspensions, the commencement usually is from the provisional suspension date unless there had been a delay in imposing a provisional suspension.
In this case, the best option for NADA would have been to go back to the Chairman of the ADAP, Abhinav Mukherjee, and seek his opinion as to how to determine the period of ineligibility. Even at a later stage, NADA could have done this instead of rushing to reply to the AFI that the athlete was eligible.
Usually, if an athlete starts competing during a period of ineligibility the additional sanction would be a fresh start of the ineligibility period from the date on which the athlete competed. In this case, since NADA has written to the federation, allowing the athlete to resume competing, it is difficult to imagine that such a clause could be brought into play.
AFI takes precaution, lapse by NADA
On its part, the AFI seemed to have taken adequate precautions before allowing Poovamma to resume participation in competitions. It was even told by NADA that the global list of ineligible persons available on the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) website was not an updated list.
For example, the AIU still shows javelin thrower Shivpal Singh as under a four-year suspension while the athlete’s suspension had been reduced to one year by the appeal panel. Shivpal has started competing and he took the second place on Friday at the Sri Lankan Championships.
In the case of Poovamma, however, the appeal panel did not reduce her suspension (as it did for Shivpal) but instead increased it.
The confusion for NADA might have arisen because the ADDP specified the date of suspension for three months from the date of the decision (16 June 2022 was the date on which the communication was sent to the athlete, the AFI etc.) while the ADAP did not mention a date. It was then taken for granted that the date would be what was ruled by the ADDP whose order was set aside.
If the starting date had to be pushed back, would it be logical to peg it on 18 Feb 2021 when the athlete had competed in at least five competitions after February 2021 and a further three competitions in 2022? One could not have said, “the athlete was deemed to be under suspension, but she did compete during the suspension period!”
Even on Saturday, the NADA website showed Poovamma’s suspension as being for two years “with effect from 20-06-2022.”
Coming as it has in the wake of a damning WADA report on NADA about big gaps in testing and whereabouts monitoring, this lapse by NADA is bound to attract the attention of international authorities.
- Mohun Bagan Super Giant vs Odisha FC Highlights, AFC Cup: MBSG 2-5 OFC, Juggernauts beat Mariners to stay second
- AFC Cup 2023-24: Odisha FC picks Mohun Bagan Super Giant apart in its own den
- Al Nassr vs Persepolis LIVE Updates, AFC Champions League 2023-24: H2H record, lineups out, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mane starts
- Vijay Hazare Trophy 2023-24: Defending champion Saurashtra stunned by unfancied Tripura
- AFC Champions League points table LIVE: Al-Nassr vs Persepolis, Ronaldo’s side leading in Group E