India set to end up with more than 125 doping bans in 2023

Three track and field athletes, whose urine samples tested positive for banned substances at the 2023 National Games in Goa, have accepted Anti-Doping Rule Violations and agreed with the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) that they would be sanctioned three-year bans. Their sanctions are with effect December 5, 2023, the date their provisional suspensions stared.

Punjab’s 24-year-old athletes Harjodhvir Singh (distance running) and Kamaljeet Kaur (sprinting) as well as Goa’s 29-year-old Ajay Kumar (distance running) have joined the growing list of sportspersons who opt for an Agreed Sanction that entails them to have their period of ineligibility reduced by a year.

There have been media reports that samples of as many as 25 athletes tested positive for banned substances. However, the list of athletes who are undergoing provisional suspension has not been updated on the NADA website since September 19, 2023.

Kamaljeet Kaur, who won silver in the women’s 200m silver (23.84 seconds) and finished sixth 100m (11.73 seconds) at the National Games, tested positive for Drostanolone, a synthetic anabolic steroid. She had clocked personal best times of 11.47 and 23.66 in the sprints a fortnight earlier at the National Open Championship in Bengaluru.

Ajay Kumar, who tested positive for Darbepoetin and Morphine, won the men’s 5000m bronze (14:13.14) and finished sixth in the 10,000m at the National Games. Though he turned up in Goa colours at the National Games, he represented Police in 2012 and Services later in events run by the Athletics Federation of India. He was part of the Uttar Pradesh squad at the 2022 National Games.

Of the three athletes, Harjodhvir Singh (Punjab), whose sample tested positive for Darbepoetin and Morphine, was the only non-medallist in the National Games. He finished fifth in the men’s 5000m (14:18.20) and a DNF (did not finish) in the 10,000m.

The three Agreed Sanctions, the first in 2024, have taken the number of such decisions to 114 since the start of 2022. There were 17 such Agreed Sanctions in the first year after the National Anti-Doping Rules were amended in keeping with the World Anti-Doping Agency Rules. In 2023, as many as 94 athletes opted to make early admission of guilt and get a reduced sanction.

NADA carried out 5801 tests, including 3038 out of competition tests, in 2023. According to records available in public domain, Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panels handed out sanctions commencing in 2023 to 30 athletes while nearly 80 athletes, whose samples were taken in 2023, took the Agreed Sanctions route.

With more cases from the National Games finding resolution sooner than later, it is likely that 2023 would have ended up with more than 125 positives. More worryingly, at least 13 of these athletes are minors, suggesting that India must raise the stakes in the battle against the scourge of doping in sports.

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