Shalu Chaudhary earns exoneration after DNA test shows urine samples were mixed up

Credits: Writer’s special arrangement

Middle-distance runner Shalu Choudhary’s conviction that she had not ingested any prohibited substances when winning the bronze medal in the women’s 800m at the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in Chennai in June 2022 saw her go the distance and secure an exoneration from charges of committing an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.

On Thursday, a National Anti-Doping Appeal Panel (ADAP) relied on a DNA report from Kings College, London, to exonerate Shalu Chaudhary. Having teamed up with her counsel Parth Goswami to wage a relentless battle for her reputation, the Delhi-based middle-distance runner can now return to competitive athletics.

Back in April 2023, an Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) arrived at the decision that she had committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation and imposed a four-year ineligibility period on her. It had also ordered the disqualification of her results from the National Inter-State Athletics Championships.

The ADDP, headed by Sunny Choudhary and including Dr DS Arya and Jagbir Singh, had over-ruled Shalu Choudhary’s request for a DNA test of the sample that tested positive for banned substances. It stated that no irregularities were alleged in the sample collection and segregation process and mere suspicion of samples being mixed up was no ground to order DNA testing.

However, when she appealed against the ADDP order, the ADAP was persuaded by her counsel Parth Goswami that the Right to Reputation is an inherent human right and that DNA tests were not prohibited under the National Anti-Doping Rules. On October 5, 2023, the Appeal Panel allowed her request for a DNA test.

NADA chose the Forensic Department of King’s College, London, to conduct the DNA test and the athlete’s urine and blood samples were collected on December 6, 2023. On March 1 this year, the King’s College Forensic Department reported that DNA profile of the urine sample collected on June 31, 2022, was a mixture of two female individuals in similar proportions.

At the April 15 hearing, NADA accepted the DNA report of the King’s College Forensic Department and did not challenge it. The Appeal Panel not only exonerated Shalu Chaudhary by setting aside the ADDP order but also ordered NADA to refund the amount of money collected from her ahead of the DNA testing.

The ADAP, chaired by Abhishek Mukerji and including Dr. Vivek Singh and Prashanti Singh, did not lose any time in passing an order in the athlete’s favour. The panel’s order became available within three days of the hearing. Besides providing relief to Shalu Chaudhary, the ADAP order of April 18 will ensure more understanding when ADDPs consider any requests for DNA tests.

As this is the second case in which DNA profiling has assisted an athlete secure justice –Vijay Singh, a biker was the first – it may be worth NADA’s while to avert similar embarrassment in the future with a thorough investigation. It will also help tighten up sample collection procedures and ensure that DNA tests do not become standard go-to measures for athletes.

If NADA is keen, it can attempt matching the DNA profile of the other female athletes whose urine samples were collected on the same day in Chennai. From a glance at the sample collection records, it can be figured that samples were collected from seven female athletes and four of these samples have tested positive for prohibited substances.

Two of these athletes are serving sanctions imposed by Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panels and a third athlete is serving a three-year ineligibility period after arriving at a Case Resolution Agreement with the Athletics Integrity Unit an independent body which has the authority for the management of World Athletics’ integrity programmes.

Curiously, none of these tested positive for Mephentermine and Ipamorelin, substances found in the urine samples said to have been those of Shalu Chaudhary but have now been declared as contaminated by the urine sample of an unknown South Asian female athlete. And since the other three samples have not tested positive for banned substances, it gets more mysterious.

Indeed, it would be unfair to not investigate the matter further. How did the samples get mixed in the first place? Where could this have happened? And who could be responsible for that? It would only be right if NADA picks the trail up and gets to the bottom of it all. Even if this has happened inadvertently, the person/s responsible for this mess must be brought to book.

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