New Delhi, Jul 2 : Indian athlete Mandeep Kaur faced one the most ignominious days of her life as she broke down with a letter of her provisional suspension in her hands on Friday.
Five female athletes have been tested positive so far in India for banned substances. Two of the athletes who flunked the dope tests were part of the Indian women's 4x400m team that won the gold medals at the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asian Games last year.
Mandeep and Sini Jose were flooded with accolades after their miraculous show at the two multi- discipline events but with the Asian Athletics Championships just round the corner, their positive dope tests have been a hammer blow for Indian athletics.
Jauna Murmu, who finished fourth in the 400m hurdles at the Asian Games, has her name on both the lists of positive samples that were taken by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).
Hari Krishnan (long jump), Tiana Mary Thomas (400m) and Sonia (shot put) were the other three athletes to have tested positive but none of them could not reached.
Mandeep and Jauna were in the Capital on Friday at the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) office to appear for their first provisional hearing, which was conducted by an AFI panel headed by Arun Mendiratta.
They will appear before the same panel on July 15. Mandeep claims she has no idea as to how the substance - methandienone - got into her body and said that the food supplements she has consumed may be responsible for the outcome.
She said she changed her vitamin supplements recently but she underwent dope tests a couple of times before the IAAF collected her sample on May 25 from National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala.
“After the Asian Games, I got myself registered under the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) whereabouts clause. We have to give all our day-to-day details to the WADA. But it is shocking to me that my name has figured amongst the dope- tainted athletes,” said a teary-eyed Mandeep.
“Never in my career have I used any banned substances and if there is any possibility, it could be because of the vitamin supplements that I have used,” she said.
Mandeep said she will wait for the panel to come out with its verdict and is hopeful that she will come out clean.
IAAF conducted dope tests on a few of the Indian athletes through an independent agency and Mandeep and Jauna were the only two athletes who flunked the tests.
NADA also conducted dope tests on 59 athletes during the June 11-14 inter-state championships in Bangalore and five athletes, including Jauna failed the dope tests.
Just as athletics was growing in popularity in the country, the positive dope cases have sent shock waves amongst the athletes and the administrators of the sport.
While the role of the athletes during such cases is often questioned and they are subsequently penalised, the source of the problem is generally overlooked.
In fact, in the last few years, majority of sports in India have been hit hard by the doping menace and the authorities have failed to arrest the situation.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has already called for a judicial inquiry into the cases and also blamed the Sports Authority of India (SAI) coaches at the national camps for the rising dope cases.
The 2012 Olympics are nearing and suspensions of top athletes has only reduced the country's hopes of winning medals at the quadrennial extravaganza.
Former athletes have demanded a thorough probe into the doping menace. Sprint queen PT Usha questioned the need to send the athletes to countries like Ukraine and blamed the exposure trips like these as one of the prominent reasons for the disaster.
“We must have a thorough inquiry into this. Whether the AFI or the government, someone has to do it. Everybody involved should be nabbed,” said Usha.
“I have been hearing for more than 10 years about the futility of sending athletes to Ukraine for training and other dirty things being done there. I think had the authorities been careful and acted on the allegations then the current mess would have been avoided.”
Meanwhile, the National Anti-Doping Agency ( NADA) has formulated a six-point agenda to crack down on the doping menace wherein it will get customs involved with it to check what the athletes bring in while travelling into the country.
NADA director general Rahul Bhatnagar made his concerns clear and said the agency will come up with more programmes to curb the positive doping cases among the Indian athletes.
“We are obviously concerned about whatever has happened over the past couple of years and we have a plan ready to tackle the situation,” Bhatnagar told Mail Today.
“The athletes regularly go out of the country for exposure trips but nobody knows what they bring with them as far as food supplements are concerned. We will get the customs involved with us so that we can keep a check on what these athletes carry with them,” he noted.
Besides, there are voices which have been claiming that it's not just the athletes who are to be blamed but the coaches and other members of the support staff are also involved at some level and they get away easily.
Bhatnagar said the NADA will approach the employers of the coaches to keep a strict vigilance on these coaches and act accordingly if any of their employees are found guilty.
“So many times we get to hear that besides the athletes there are other people involved as well. But not much can be done so from now on we will ask the employers of the coaches to keep a strict watch on the coaches and anybody who is found to be doing anything wrong must be penalised.”
He further said that the NADA will raid the rooms and camps of the athletes randomly so that the dope cheats can be nabbed there and then. There will also be an increase in the sample collection so that more number of athletes undergo the dope tests.
Over the past few years, most number of positive dope cases have came from the national camps, raising a lot of questions on the activities within the training camps.
Bhatnagar said that the athletes will be closely monitored during the camps. “There is a need to keep a vigilant eye on the activities of the athletes.
We will see to it that where these athletes go while they are in the camp, the shops they normally visit and the products they buy from there,” he noted.