Renu’s suspension, after CAS ruling, exposes a flawed system to contain dope-tests

Renu was approached for an out-of-competition test at Haryana in August 2022, from which she ran away. As a result, she was banned for four years, which was upheld by the top sports court.

Published : Feb 07, 2024 20:58 IST , New Delhi - 5 MINS READ

In a startling conversation, recorded by the Doping Control Officers, while trying to test triple jumper Renu Grewal, the athlete has claimed that they got prior intimation about a NADA test.
In a startling conversation, recorded by the Doping Control Officers, while trying to test triple jumper Renu Grewal, the athlete has claimed that they got prior intimation about a NADA test. | Photo Credit: AP

In a startling conversation, recorded by the Doping Control Officers, while trying to test triple jumper Renu Grewal, the athlete has claimed that they got prior intimation about a NADA test. | Photo Credit: AP

Does the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) conduct out-of-competition testing on a no-notice basis as it should be?

For a long time, there have been doubts about this aspect of NADA testing. Now, in a startling conversation, video-recorded by the Doping Control Officers (DCOs) of NADA, while trying to test triple jumper Renu Grewal, the athlete has claimed that they got prior intimation about a NADA test.

For those used to hearing accounts of NADA testing at training centres around the country, this might come as no surprise. Yet, when it goes on record, like it did in the conversation between the DCO and the athlete, it exposes a flawed system that might have been at work for years and might need correction.

Renu was approached for an out-of-competition test at Bhiwani, Haryana, on August 8, 2022. According to the case made out by NADA, she refused to sign the notification for sample collection and ran away from the venue.

A charge of “evasion” was brought before the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) which ruled the athlete guilty and imposed a four-year suspension on September 6, 2022.

Renu went to the appeal panel against this decision, which reversed the ADDP’s decision on February 28, 2023 ruling, among other things, that there were unauthorised persons in the vicinity of the sample collection process and that the DCOs had failed to identify themselves.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), however, went into appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which upheld its appeal and ruled that Renu would undergo a four-year suspension for the “evasion” from December 14, 2023, to June 21, 2027, giving credit to the suspension period already served by the athlete.

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The complete sequence of Renu’s “refusal” and “evasion” is brought out by two video clippings submitted by WADA to CAS to support its case. Though both recordings were part of proceedings in India also, the panels here seemed to have given little credence to these recorded conversations.

Here is how the conversations happened (as per CAS order with translation provided by WADA):

Conversations of the first video
Athlete: They are following me as if I am going to run away. Don’t worry sir, I won’t flee away like this.
DCO: Ma’am you have refused to sign, so obviously you are under suspicion that you will flee away. So, we will have to follow you.
Athlete: If I don’t sign, what will you do?
DCO: What?
Athlete: If I don’t then what will you do?
DCO: Don’t do then.
Coach: There has already been a FIR
(Coach Surender was with Renu at that time and he was probably referring to a dispute the athlete has had with another coach (Suman) who Renu alleged had accompanied the DCOs for the sample collection session)
DCO: But this has nothing to do with this process.
Conversations of the second video
(when the athlete had reached the boundary wall of the complex where she was training)
DCO: I Just cannot understand why you are denying signing this Doping Control Form.
Athlete: I won’t sign the DCF like this. First, we will discuss, and then only I will sign.
DCO: Discuss? I have shown you the authority letter.
Athlete: No problem, I will not sign.
(Someone from behind: Is Mr Rathi there?)
DCO: You can sign while practising at the stadium or ground also.
Athlete: Whenever someone is coming for a sample, we get information on the phone via WhatsApp.
DCO: No, no.
Athlete (trying to call someone)

“Ultimately, the athlete did not provide a sample. She jumped over the wall and ran away in the field”, noted the sole CAS Arbitrator, Annett Rombach of Germany, in her order.

One has heard of instances where coaches or others have tipped off athletes at major training centres in advance that NADA testers were scheduled to come. That, in itself, has always been against all regulations and logic.

The surprise element is the key to “no-notice testing”. Once that is removed, the purpose is all but defeated.

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Out-of-competition testing is the major plank that provides anti-doping agencies with a chance to get the athlete without advance notice. No athlete knowing well that he/she would test positive if a sample is provided that particular day, would present himself/herself before a testing team.

If the athlete is in the Registered Testing Pool (RTP) and the time slot happens to be the same as given by the athlete in the whereabouts filing, the best option would be to attract a “missed test” rather than provide a sample and be eventually charged with a steroid violation.

In recent times, at training centres in athletics in the Southern States, the arrival schedule of the NADA teams, as per information gathered over a period of time, was in the know of chief coach/camp co-ordinator/coaches and chosen athletes themselves.

This is the regulation that governs no-notice testing in the WADA International Standards for Testing and Investigations:

“5.3.1 No Advance Notice Testing shall be the method for Sample collection save in exceptional and justifiable circumstances. The Athlete shall be the first Person notified that they have been selected for Sample collection, except where prior contact with a third party is required as specified in Article 5.3.7. In order to ensure that Testing is conducted on a No Advance Notice Testing basis, the Testing Authority (and the Sample Collection Authority, if different) shall ensure that Athlete selection decisions are only disclosed in advance of Testing to those who strictly need to know in order for such Testing to be conducted. Any notification to a third party shall be conducted in a secure and confidential manner so that there is no risk that the Athlete will receive any advance notice of their selection for Sample collection. For In-Competition Testing, such notification shall occur at the end of the Competition in which the Athlete is competing.

[Comment to 5.3.1: Every effort should be made to ensure Event Venue or training venue staff are not aware that Testing may take place in advance. It is not justifiable for a National Federation or other body to insist that it be given advance notice of Testing of Athletes under its authority so that it can have a representative present at such Testing.”

WADA surely must be aware of these discrepancies in NADA’s testing.

Having won its appeal at CAS in the Renu case, and perused the order, it must now be fully familiar with the pattern of testing in India. One can expect it to take effective remedial measures at the earliest.

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