The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has restored the suspension of quarter-miler M. R. Poovamma after having allowed her to compete a year ahead of the end of her two-year suspension period.
In a curious case of permitting an early return of a suspended athlete, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) informed the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) on June 16 that Poovamma was eligible to compete. She subsequently competed in the Sri Lanka National championships at Diyagama in July, finishing seventh in in the 400m 56.20s.
The June letter from NADA was in response to a query from AFI about the Karnataka athlete’s eligibility following the decision of the Anti-Doping Appeal Panel (ADAP) to increase her suspension from three months as ordered by the disciplinary panel to two years. Poovamma had enquired from AFI whether she could enter the Diyagama meet.
The NADA has now written to state that it was because of an error that it had informed the AFI about the period of suspension and the end of ineligibility period and her suspension would end as per the decision of the ADAP and as displayed on the NADA website. NADA did not specify the date of her return to competition, but as per the orders as available before the latest developments, it should be June 15, 2024.
NADA has not specified the rest of the stipulations that should normally be followed in case an athlete returns to competition early. Though in this case it happened because of a mistake committed by NADA, it goes without saying that her result in July should be annulled and her suspension period, set aside from June 16 to August 10 (the dates of the NADA letters) should be adjusted in her total ineligibility period.
Poovamma was suspended for three months in June last year. In September, ADAP, however, set aside that order and extended her suspension to two years. She was suspended for a positive test returned for the stimulant methylhexaneamine (MHA).
After the Sri Lankan event, speculation was rife about the re-imposition of the suspension on the 33-year-old athlete. When the entries for the Indian Grand Prix meet at Chandigarh were released, Poovamma’s name figured in them. The speculation intensified when her name also appeared in the start-lists for Sunday’s 400m races. The AFI had stated that some of the athletes who had not made the grade earlier for the Asian Games were being given an additional chance through the Chandigarh meet.
It was not clear whether the women’s 4x400m relay team would be changed though the AFI President, Adille Sumariwalla, had said that no fresh names other than those chosen earlier and sent to Hangzhou and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) would be considered. Some names were rejected by the Sports Ministry when it cleared the first batch of athletes for the Asiad, but as often happens, there was always room for additions and deletions, it seemed.
The AFI amended the start-lists on Sunday excluding the name of the suspended Poovamma, and, if one were to deviate into the composition of the 4x400m relay team, there were problems aplenty that cropped up for the federation after the 400m was run in two heats with some of the season toppers faring poorly.
It is not known whether the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which was seized of the issue, intervened in the Poovamma matter. WADA had recently published a report, finding several issues with the way NADA managed its “whereabouts” regulations and testing. With the Asian Games round the corner, NADA was being kept on its toes by the world body and any further lapses could have resulted in more strictures.
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