The Rowing Federation of India (RFI) commenced an investigation after 22 junior national team rowers failed dope tests. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) demanded the federation ‘introspect’.
The 22 rowers all aged under eighteen, tested positive for a banned substance called probenecid, a drug used for treating gout. Their samples were collected during the training camp in Hyderabad, after which a 24-member team travelled to Pattaya for the Asian Junior Championships. RFI secretary MV Sriram has stated that the 11 month gap between sample collection and test result could be a procedural lapse.
However, Navin Agarwal, the director general of NADA has ruled out the theory, “That (the 11-month gap) does not matter. It happened because soon after we collected the samples, the National Dope Testing Laboratory was suspended and we had to send the samples to a laboratory outside India,” he said. “What is important is that 22 rowers have tested positive. The federation should introspect and find out what went wrong.”
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The rowers have waived their right to get a B sample test, because the testing process will have to be conducted in Doha. Another round of testing will require the athletes to be present in person and international travel restrictions rule that out.
The federation came to the rowers’ defence saying the failed test could be a result of contaminated supplements. “It has to be the food supplements used which have resulted in 22 positive cases out of the 32 tested. We are also perplexed by the findings. All due procedures will be followed and we will find out what went wrong,” Sriram said.
Sriram further noted that the consumed supplements were recommended to the rowers by the coaches and were approved by the Sports Authority of India. The athletes themselves were included in the national training camp after their performance in the Khelo India Games last year.
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“We will write to SAI and ask them to check whether the supplements have any inadequacies in this regard. We cannot fathom how this occurred as we take the utmost precaution during these camps,” RFI president Rajlaxmi Singh Deo said in conversation with the New Indian Express.
The positive findings mean India will lose two silver medals won in Pattaya. Their performance at the Asian Junior Championships were much weaker than in the recent past. “There are so many puzzling aspects. Why dope and perform badly? How and why only 22 tested positive? I have respect for NADA and don’t want to point fingers but these are questions worth asking,” Singh Deo added.
Agarwal also did not rule out contamination of supplements. “I don’t know who has given this argument but it could be one of the possibilities. At the same time, they may not have taken due care in selecting the supplement. The federation has to examine what went wrong.”
Since probenecid comes under the category of ‘specified substance’ by the WADA, there is a possibility that the rowers could escape with a lenient sanction instead of a four year ban. WADA specifies prohibited substances under ‘specified’ and ‘non-specified’ categories to recognise the possibility of a substance entering an athlete’s body accidentally.
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