Anju Bobby George, the government-appointed national observer for athletics, has written to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Sports Authority of India about dope tests not being conducted at the 57th National Open Athletics Championships held in Chennai last month.The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) is responsible for conducting dope tests at sports meets across disciplines, but doping control officers were not present during the four-day meet – held from September 25 to 28.
The meet was significant because the selection period for next year’s Commonwealth Games began in September. Anju has expressed her anguish because it would be difficult to judge athletes if there was no way to check if their performances were clean.
“The selection period/screening of performances has started for the next Commonwealth Games with the Open Nationals. We cannot properly evaluate the performances of athletes in meets where NADA testing facility is not there and even national records set by clean athletes would not be ratified. We need to ensure that NADA testing is available in prominent meets like Open Nationals to avoid possible controversies,” Anju wrote.
NADA director general Navin Agarwal, however, said that the meet was not a priority. “It was an open championships, I believe, and it does not have much relevance and significance. We may have send doping control officers (DCOs) earlier. But at any particular time, we have to see the availability of DCOs and risk assessment also has to be considered. During that time there could have been a more important event happening,” Agarwal said.
It is learnt that the Athletics Federation of India had intimated NADA about the dates of the Open Nationals two months before the event. “I had written to NADA and informed them about the dates of the Open Nationals in July. However, they did not get back. On the first day of the championships, when we realised that there were no dope tests done, it was clear that NADA had decided not to screen athletes at this meet. The National Open Athletics is a major event on the calendar and dope tests should have been conducted,” Arun Mendiratta, the chairman of the medical committee of the Athletics Federation of India, said.
India is ranked third in the number of doping violations, according to the last report published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in January. This is the third time in as many years that India has been in the top three. Weightlifting, athletics and boxing were the three sports in which Indians doped the most.
Before last year’s Rio Olympics, a number of top athletes tested positive, including wrestler Narsingh Yadav, shot putter Inderjeet Singh, sprinter Dharambir Singh and quarter-miler Priyanka Panwar.
In an effort to ensure that elite athletes are clean, Anju, India’s only medallist at the Athletics World Championships, has also called for athletes who are in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (Tops) to undergo four out-of- competition tests in a year.
“My suggestion is that athletes who are getting Tops support should be tested and cleared minimum four times a year (out of competition) for doping. Our system needs to be more vigilant and proactive to ensure rights of clean athletes are protected,” the long jumper wrote.
When contacted, Anju did not comment stating that her letter was part of an internal communication between an observer and the government.