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Dope tests: Out of 1,637 athletes, NADA collects only a few samples

Having missed the first three days of the 36th National Junior Championships in Guwahati, a National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) team have collected urine samples of only a handful of athletes among the 1,600-plus competitors, targeting only the athletes who have erased national or meet records, and not all the medal winners.

The number of samples collected is a minuscule percentage of the 1,637 boys and girls who competed. But since the NADA team reached Guwahati late, many athletes whose events were over had left the city — a big jolt to the aim of cleansing athletics of doping.

The samples collected from Guwahati would be sent abroad for testing — an expensive exercise — as New Delhi’s National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) currently stands suspended for not following World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) protocols for accredited labs.

The five-day age group championships conclude on Wednesday.

“The NADA team collected urine samples of over half-a-dozen athletes on its arrival here in Guwahati on Tuesday. The team is expected to collect 12 to 15 urine samples today [Wednesday]. NADA’s dope testing officials wanted to collect urine samples on Monday, but the dope testing kits weren’t available yesterday; these arrived only on Tuesday,” an official familiar with the dope testing protocol told IANS.

“The NADA team’s main target is to test athletes having erased national or meet records only and not the medal winners. This could be due to a lack of funds. Sending urine samples to WADA-accredited foreign labs is expensive as the NDTL has been suspended by WADA for not following its protocol,” said one of the national coaches from Guwahati.

The meet started on Saturday, but athletes from far off places like Kerala or Punjab had reached the venue a day in advance. The NADA team didn’t reach in time and skipped the opening three days of the championships that assumes importance as the AFI will select probables for national camp on the basis of their performance in Guwahati.

Uttarakhand’s Reshma Patel has set a national mark in the girls’ under-18 race walk event three days ago, on Saturday, but was asked to report for a random dope test on Tuesday.

“She was informed just two hours before the start of her journey to Ranchi [venue of the upcoming National Race Walking Championships]. To avoid further complications of missing a dope test she had to rush back from the Guwahati railway station. It also forced her to change her travel plans at the eleventh hour,” an official of the Uttarakhand team told IANS.

As per WADA’s anti-doping violation rule, three missed tests in 12 months would mean a fail dope test and suspension of four years.

“Taking random samples three days after the competition is over wouldn’t serve the purpose because it would be difficult to detect stimulants or masking agents. The samples collected within an hour of finishing the competition would be more meaningful to catch culprits,” said sports medicine expert Ashok Ahuja.

Ahuja, the former head of the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) Sports Medicine Centre, is of the view that athletes shouldn’t be chased but monitored closely. “If the NADA team doesn’t follow dope testing guidelines laid down by WADA, it could be legally challenged if the athletes test positive,” he said.

“Reshma has plans to compete in the National Race Walking Championships this weekend in Ranchi, but couldn’t get confirmed train tickets on Wednesday. She would now board a flight on Thursday,” said the Uttarakhand official.

Middle and long-distance runner Ankita Dhyani from Uttarakhand, too, had set a national record in women’s 5000m race in the under-20 category on Friday, clocking 16 minutes 21.19 seconds to improve the old mark of Sunita Rani set in 1997 by 40 seconds. But she was subjected to a random dope test on Tuesday.

Karnataka’s high jumper Pavana Nagaraj erased the old mark in the under-16 girl’s category while Uttar Pradesh’s race walker Munita Prajapati broke the national record in the women’s under-20 group.

“Several athletes have already left Guwahati. I guess only two or three athletes who had broken national records were present at the venue,” said one of the officials of the Assam Athletics Association, the organizers of the event.

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