BARELY 12 hours before his scheduled bout at the Rio Olympics, India’s Narsingh Yadav was handed a four-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on a doping charge. The court’s ruling overturned the decision by India’s National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) to exonerate the wrestler due to the possibility of “sabotage” in his food or drink allegedly being spiked leading to two failed dope tests.
Following the CAS ruling, the 26-year-old has been asked to leave the Games Village. The ban, which came into force from August 18, also rules out Yadav from the next Olympic Games at Tokyo from July 24 to August 9 in 2020.
For the moment, though, India is left without any representation in a category in which it boasts of an Olympic medallist and a world championship medallist. Neither Sushil Kumar, who won bronze in London, nor Narsingh, a bronze-winner at the Worlds, is available to compete for a medal in the 74-kg category, largely due to the Wrestling Federation of India’s (WFI) selection policies.
Not satisfied with NADA’s decision to exonerate Narsingh, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) had filed an urgent appeal with CAS’s ad-hoc division, set up especially for the Rio Games to fast-track cases. According to WADA rules, all first-time offenders are banned for four years.
Thursday’s hearing lasted for four hours before CAS found no merit in Narsingh’s argument that he was “a victim of sabotage”. The panel noted that there was no evidence to prove that Narsingh was not to blame and had no intention of taking the banned substance.
During the NADA hearing in Delhi, Gaurang Kant, the national agency’s lawyer, had contended that the evidence put forward by Narsingh was contradictory. In paragraph 17 of his affidavit, Narsingh had stated that “some of my opponents had deliberately sabotaged the food that I was consuming”. But in the paragraph, he stated that the banned substance had entered his body after his amino acid drink was contaminated.
“Narsingh had failed to lead any evidence to establish how the substance had entered his body. When a person is pleading sabotage, that needs to be established by the preponderance of evidence. As far as the evidence of Narsingh is concerned, paragraphs 17 and 18 were contradictory to each other. So if a person fails to establish in his own evidence as to how the substance had entered his body, he cannot be given the advantage of the defence,” Kant said.
Narsingh’s argument was based on article 10.4 of the WADA code, which puts the onus on the athlete to establish that despite all due care, he/she was sabotaged by a competitor.
Besides, while Narsingh focused during the hearing on the likelihood of his drink being spiked during practice at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Sonepat, either on June 23 or June 24, he could not establish who had done this or when. Narsingh had mentioned that a junior wrestler Jitesh was spotted in the kitchen of SAI-Sonepat on June 5, while alleging that there was an attempt to contaminate his food, but there is no mention of who contaminated his drink.
With the CAS ruling, the WFI’s role in this saga has also come under the scanner. A senior WFI functionary said they were not expecting an appeal by WADA even though it was routine for the world agency to appeal decisions where athletes are handed bans for less than the mandatory four years. “We felt that even if they did appeal, it would be heard by CAS after the Olympics. We did not anticipate they would take up the case before Narsingh’s bout,” the official said.
The WFI has also been changing its stand on the issue. The federation’s president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh had told The Indian Express in 2015 that they would conduct selection trials before the Olympics to ensure the best wrestler represents India in Rio. But this May, he took a U-turn and insisted that trials were out of question, leading two-time medallist Sushil Kumar to challenge the decision in high court.
During the initial part of the hearing, WFI said Sushil was Narsingh’s back-up. But when Narsingh was suspended for doping, the WFI went ahead with Praveen Rana. However, Rana was later dropped in favour of Narsingh, after he was given a go-ahead by the NADA panel.
Thursday’s decision by CAS ended not just Narsingh’s dream, but also India’s ambitions to bid for another medal in wrestling.