How often have we heard of Indian athletes going incommunicado after a stunning performance. And often, while watching the sudden and magical improvement in performances, one has often wondered whether the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has a sincere and smart out-of-competition strategy in place to catch cheats.
A few years ago, there were reports that many prominent athletes who went on to win medals at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games did not face a single out-of-competition dope test.
The World Anti-Doping Agency had been watching these strange patterns in Indian sport closely and, following an investigation by its independent Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) Department into allegations that elements of NADA’s testing programme were not in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code and international standard for testing and investigations, the I&I has published its summary report which was released by WADA on Tuesday night.
Launched in 2018 the I&I investigation, known as ‘Operation Carousel’, found that NADA did not carry out adequate testing on some athletes in its registered testing pool across various sports and also did not closely monitor athletes’ whereabouts information.
The investigation monitored select sports and athletes and, as a result, in cooperation with NADA, 12 positive tests (Adverse Analytical Findings) and 97 whereabouts failures of 70 athletes were identified. These are now subject to results management processes as appropriate.
In 2019, on Operation Carousel’s recommendation, NADA tested many powerlifters and seven of them were caught doping and sanctioned.
13 HIGH-PROFILE ATHLETES TRAINING ABROAD TESTED
While compiling the report, Operation Carousel reviewed the data of 192 Indian athletes. And in May 2022, on its recommendation, target testing was conducted on 13 high-level athletes training abroad. Of the 13, four had not filed their mandatory whereabouts and one had updated whereabouts at the last minute and falsely claimed to have been in India.
RTP ATHLETES NOT TESTED FOR NEARLY A YEAR
Operation Carousel also pointed out to NADA that of its 131 RTP (registered testing pool) athletes, only 103 had been tested and, as of 17 November 2022, 28 athletes had not been tested at all in 2022.
The NADA took corrective steps and in February 2023, it reported to Operation Carousel that following a review, it had discovered 41 filing failures and that 28 missed tests were now in the final stages of review.
LACK OF RESOURCES A HURDLE
“Since 2016, WADA has been working with NADA to improve its anti-doping programme, providing various corrective actions to address non-conformities with the World Anti-Doping Code and International Standards,” said Gunter Younger, WADA I&I Director.
“In parallel and in response to tips coming through our confidential information platform, ‘Speak Up!’, WADA I&I launched ‘Operation Carousel’, which uncovered clear evidence that NADA’s lack of resources meant it was not carrying out a sufficient level of testing and it did not have satisfactory oversight and management of whereabouts filings by RTP athletes.”
With Operation Carousel starting to engage openly with NADA in late 2022, the national body strengthened its testing programme by improving internal processes and bringing in significant additional resources.
It has now doubled its sample collection staff, including doping control officers, and made significant improvements to its whereabouts management. This has resulted in increased collection of blood samples and out-of-competition testing (urine and blood) which is a more effective tool to catch cheats than in-competition testing.
The NADA has also employed a dedicated investigator and two intelligence staff and, with the help of WADA, it is receiving external assistance to help develop and strengthen its anti-doping programmes, including its investigative and intelligence capacities.
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