Rowers. (Representative Photo by TOI)
NEW DELHI: In one of the biggest doping scandals in the country’s recent history, 22 junior men and women rowers have failed drug test for banned substance probenecid in an out-of-competition testing conducted by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) in Hyderabad.
This is probably the biggest dope catch for NADA in a single Olympic sports discipline since its inception in 2005. The minor scullers have been served the ‘Adverse Analytical Finding’ (AAF) notice of charge by the NADA after their urine sample reports returned positive from Qatar’s Doha laboratory, where NADA has been sending the athletes’ samples for drug testing following the suspension of the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in August, 2019.
TOI is withholding their names since they all are minors. The rowers – in the age category of 16 to 18 – were tested during the preparatory national camp for the Asian Junior Rowing Championship in Pattaya, Thailand from December 16 to 22, 2019.
Later, a 24-member Indian team, consisting of 20 rowers, had travelled to Pattaya for the event. The coaches involved with the camp were Jenil Krishnan (Kerala), Amit Singh (Army) and Dalvir Singh Rathore (MP Water sports academy).
Indian rowers had clinched two silver medals at the meet. The most worrying part is that the sample reports of 22 rowers had one thing in common – all of them tested positive for probenecid, which is a uricosuric and masking agent in the WADA’s list of prohibited performance-enhancing drugs.
Since the drug comes under the ‘specified substance’ category of the WADA list, the rowers haven’t opted for the optional provisional suspension after waiving off their rights for ‘B’ sample testing. NADA had offered them the option to opt for provisional suspension as that would have saved individual rowers and the team from losing their respective medals if found guilty of doping.
All their results will become null and void during that period (from December 2019 onwards when they were tested). Such a big number of scullers returning positive for the same substance puts a big question mark on the Rowing Federation of India (RFI) and the coaches and support staff attached with the national camp.
It also raises questions on the quality of food supplements procured by the federations, in consultation with the coaches. Probenecid is generally ingested intravenously by athletes. The substance helps in decreasing an athlete’s weight, thus increasing the speed of an athlete.
“The federation and its coaches are required to inform their athletes about the rules of the game. The RFI needs to examine why such a large number of junior athletes were allowed to consume this substance in the camp. Coaches and organisers must tell the reason,” NADA director general, Navin Agarwal, told TOI. “There are NSFs which seek our support for anti-doping awareness programmes. Sadly, the RFI never asked or approached us for informative sessions for their athletes,” he added.