Narsingh Pancham Yadav can consider himself very, very fortunate.
Few expected National Anti-Doping Agency’s (NADA) disciplinary panel to be lenient with the grappler from Mumbai.
But NADA have been benevolent in ruling in favour of the 26-year-old wrestler exonerating him—giving him the benefit of the doubt— by accepting his version of sabotage by a fellow competitor.
Section 10.4 of NADA’s Anti-Doping Rules (2015) states:
10.4 Elimination of the Period of Ineligibility where there is No Fault or
If an Athlete or other Person establishes in an individual case that he or she bears No Fault or Negligence, then the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated.
[Comment to Article 10.4: This Article and Article 10.5.2 apply only to the imposition of sanctions; they are not applicable to the determination of whether an anti-doping rule violation has occurred. They will only apply in exceptional circumstances, for example where an Athlete could prove that, despite all due care, he or she was sabotaged by a competitor.
Conversely, No Fault or Negligence would not apply in the following circumstances: (a) a positive test resulting from a mislabelled or contaminated vitamin or nutritional supplement
(Athletes are responsible for what they ingest (Article 2.1.1) and have been warned against the possibility of supplement contamination); (b) the Administration of a Prohibited Substance by the Athlete’s personal physician or trainer without disclosure to the Athlete
(Athletes are responsible for their choice of medical personnel and for advising medical personnel that they cannot be given any Prohibited Substance); and (c) sabotage of the Athlete’s food or drink by a spouse, coach or other Person within the Athlete’s circle of associates (Athletes are responsible for what they ingest and for the conduct of those Persons to whom they entrust access to their food and drink). However, depending on the unique facts of a particular case, any of the referenced illustrations could result in a reduced sanction under Article 10.5 based on No Significant Fault or Negligence.]
Had Yadav been found guilty, he would have been banned for the full period of four years.
Yadav and his fellow wrestlers celebrated by partaking of sweets outside the agency’s office.
But it’s not all clear for Rio as yet.
Chander Shekhar Luthra of DNA writes:
“…World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has so far refused to bow down to allegations of ‘sabotage’, keeping in mind that such a decision could well cause an irreparable loss to the ‘battle against doping’ at the international level.”
A retired Nada official said:
“What if the entire Russia stand together and say there was a deep conspiracy against their 100 athletes? What if Maria Sharapova now cites the ‘conspiracy’ angle by her opponents in her case that is being heard by Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS)?”
NADA’s rules state that appeals can be filed to both CAS and the National Anti-Doping Appeal Panel within a period of 21 days.
The latter’s unlikely—it would be tantamount to NADA challenging its own decision—but appeals can be made to CAS by WADA, the international Wrestling Federation United World Wrestling and the IOC; there exists no other apparent affected party in the above proceedings.
NADA lawyer Gaurang Kanth complained “he was not allowed to cross-examine Narsingh on the sabotage angle”.
Yadav had tested positive for the anabolic steroid — methandienone — in both his A and B samples.
NADA DG Naveen Agarwal read out the panel’s verdict:
“We kept in mind that in the past, till June 2, none of his samples were positive. It was inconceivable that one-time ingestion would be of benefit. Therefore the panel is of the view that the one-time ingestion was not intentional.”
Jitesh Kumar,the 17-year-old accused of spiking Yadav’s drinks is a trainee at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar supervises the wrestlers there. An FIR has already been filed by Yadav at the Rai police station in Haryana.
Maria Sharapova has been found guilty of committing a doping violation and has been sentenced to a two-year ban period backdated to January 26, 2016—the day she failed her drug test in Melbourne at the Australian Open.
Is the ban justified? Should Sharapova have been dealt with more leniently?
Let’s try and seek some answers, shall we?
The Independent Tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) consisted of Charles Flint QC, Dr. Barry O’Driscoll and Dr. José A. Pascual.
John J. Haggerty of Fox Rothschild LLP and Howard L Jacobs represented Maria Sharapova and Johnathan Taylor and Lauren Pagé of Bird & Bird LLP presented the case for the International Tennis Federation.
Sharapova was subjected to an additional out-of-competition test on the 2nd of February, 2016 in which meldonium was discovered as well. For the purposes of the tribunal, the results were treated as a single anti-doping violation.
The judgment rested on four legs of a just table:
“(1) Whether the player can establish that the violation of article 2.1 was not intentional within the meaning of article 10.2.3. If so, then the period of ineligibility to be imposed is 2 years; if not, the period of ineligibility to be imposed is 4 years.
(2) Whether under article 10.5.2 the player can establish that she had no significant fault or negligence, in which case the period of ineligibility may be reduced to a minimum of 1 year.
(3) Whether the ITF is estopped from asserting any fault on the part of the player.
(4) Whether the player can invoke the principle of proportionality so as to avoid or mitigate the sanctions that follow from the rules.”
The ITF’s case rested on whether they could prove that Maria Sharapova knowingly disregarded the risk of contravening the anti-doping rules and thus committed an intentional violation.
Sharapova’s lawyers sought to prove that the ITF were well aware that she had failed a Mildronate test in 2015 and thus she ought to have been warned by the ITF explicitly that she would come under the scanner given that Mildronate had been added to the banned substances list.
The ITF were , however, provided the list of last year’s offenders only in March this year; privacy and security concerns are the reasons offered for the list not being provided to the ITF earlier. This effectively negated any assertion from the defendant that the ITF couldn’t assert any fault on Sharapova’s part.
Sharapova submitted that she was first prescribed the said drug in 2005 by Dr. Anatoly Skalny of the Centre for Biotic Medicine in Moscow. She was prescribed a list of 18 medications in total for a “mineral metabolism disorder, insufficient supply of nutrients from food intake and other abnormalities which made it necessary to boost the immune system.”
The prescription for Mildronate was as follows:
“Mildronate 1-2 X 10, repeat in 2 wks (before training or competition)
1 hr before competition, 2 pills of Mildronate
During games of special importance, you can increase your Mildronate dose to 3-4 pills (1 hr before the match). However, it is necessary to consult me on all these matters (please call)
30 minutes prior to a training session: Mildronat – 1 Capsule. 30-45 minutes prior to a tournament Mildronat 2 capsules”.
The drug was also further recommended whenever:
“complaints arose regarding fatigue related to overexertion,[or] lowering of the immune functions, appearance of inflammatory processes, lab results abnormalities in the fat and carbohydrate metabolism (glucose, cholesterol, insulin), affecting the myocardial functions (magnesium, phosphorus deficiency, elevated AST etc.) 8.”
Dr. Ford Vox expressed the opinion that “Dr. Skalny was, in the light of Ms Sharapova’s family history, justified in prescribing Mildronate both as a cardioprotective agent and as a preventative agent for diabetes.” and that the Russian scientific literature supporting Mildronate’s clinical use to compensate for an immune deficiency was strong.
The medications were verified against the WADA Prohibited List and were found in compliance.
In 2012, Sharapova discontinued her association with Dr. Skalny and retained a nutritionist Nick Harris instead.
She continued to self-medicate though with three substances: Magnerot, Riboxin and Mildronate.
Her nutritionist was not informed that she continued the above drugs.
Sharapova’s use of Mildronate was never disclosed either to WTA or WADA and the only documentation of her use was the correspondence between her and Dr. Skalny.
In 2015, WADA announced that usage of Meldonium would be monitored both in and outside competition.
Six percent of athletes tested positive for Meldonium in 2015 under the monitoring program.
Meldonium was added to the Prohibited Substances List for 2016 on 29 September 2015 by WADA and published on its website.
The ITF published the same on 7 December 2015 on its website.
Plastic wallet cards listing the prohibited drugs were handed over to Sven Groeneveld, Ms Sharapova’s coach by Neil Robinson of the WTA sometime in January 2016.
Two emails were mailed out by the WTA and the ITF respectively to players with references to the 2016 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme but there was no intimation of changes to the Prohibited List or specifically addition of Meldonium to the list.
24 samples taken from tennis players tested positive for Meldonium in 2015 (just over 1% of tennis players)—five of which were Ms. Sharapova’s.
However, results from WADA are reported to sports bodies only on an aggregate basis.This ensures confidentiality of the players’ results.
The ITF had no way of knowing that Meldonium was being used by Sharapova in 2015.
The tribunal found that the decision by Sharapova not to disclose her use of Meldonium on her doping control form was deliberate.
Max Eisenbud, Sharapova’s manager, claims to have no training as to how to distinguish a prohibited substance from a legally allowed drug and that he was encountering personal problems i.e. separation from his wife because of which he did not take his annual vacation which he usually utilized to check his wards’ adherence to the prohibited list and hence failed to review the 2016 list.
The tribunal found Eisenbud’s testimony ‘incredible’.
The triune also found that Sharapova’s continued use of Meldonium was “consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels”.
Did Sharapova intentionally break the rules?
Article 10.2.3 states:
“The term, therefore, requires that the Player or other Person engaged in conduct that he/she knew constituted an anti-doping rule violation or knew that there was a significant risk that the conduct might constitute or result in an Anti-Doping Rule Violation and manifestly disregarded that risk.”
The tribunal found her use of Mildronate unintentional as per the above Article.
Hence she was not handed a full ban of four years
Was she negligent?
Conscientiousness is the personal responsibility of a player and thus Sharapova’s professed indifference to checking the Prohibited List landed her squarely in the cross-hairs of the tribunal who found her guilty and handed her a ban of two years.
Sharapova sought to invoke estoppel on the basis that “the ITF (a) failed to notify her of the test results obtained in 2015 (b) failed to distribute the Prohibited List to her and (c) failed to publicise the amendments to the Prohibited List.”
The Tribunal found no basis for this claim.
The Tribunal also found no extreme or unique circumstances under which principles of proportionality could be invoked to reduce the sanction.
The only concession granted to Sharapova is the back-dating of her punishment to the date of her Australian Open failed drug test.
The tribunal concluded:
“The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016. However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible. If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided. She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”
The decision of the tribunal can and will be appealed by the Russian in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Source: Text of tribunal verdict on ITF website.
Maria Yuryevna Sharapova is still hitting the headlines regularly despite not playing.
Why are we surprised?
Ever since she made her debut as a 17-year-old winning Wimbledon on her first attempt, the Russian diva is first among equals when embodying the glamorous side of her sport.
Her Sugarpova label expanded to incorporate not just candy but also eye candy— her own brand of apparel and cosmetics.
Sugarpova chocolate went on sale this May despite Sharapova’s provisional suspension from the sport following a failed meldonium test at the Australian Open this year.
A hearing into the her case was scheduled last Wednesday by the ITF.
The ruling probably hinges on the amount of the banned drug in her system at the time and how lenient or strict the governing body is about her continuance past the official ban date. WADA subsequently backtracked from tarring all barred athletes with the same brush when it was discovered that the drug could lie latent in the system for months after its use was discontinued.
Can Sharapova play again? Will she?
Speculation about her future has already begun in the media with commentators and administrators joining the media circus.
Former glamour puss Chris Evert chimed in.
“I think at 29 time is running out for Maria.Look, she started in her teens playing full schedules. I think that motivation and hunger—her hunger even more so has always motivated her to go out and play and that’s what we’ve admired in her so much is the intense hunger that she’s had.
And now that she’s getting a taste of real life. I’m seeing tweets she’s out and about, traveling and going to premieres, modeling and she’s everywhere. And I think as she gets a little taste of the good life who knows if she’s gonna comeback as hungry? I don’t know maybe she’ll have a little bit different attitude.
But at 29 years old and the players are getting better and better. And Maria, if you look at her results the past few years, she’s having more and more losses to players that are ranked below her. And I think she was starting to kind of get a little fragile anyway when this happened earlier this year. So I think it’s gonna be tough (to comeback).”
“If she comes back hungry and as mentally strong as she always has been then again nothing she can do will surprise me. But at the same time, I just wonder just about how much tennis she’s played in her career and the players getting better. I doubt whether she can get back to number two.”
Novak Djokovic felt otherwise:
“I obviously wish her all the best. I’ve known her for a long time. I feel for her with all that’s happening and I just hope she gets out of this stronger.”
But the most surprising comments have come from her own camp.
Shamil Tarpishchev, president of the Russian Tennis Federation, termed Sharapova’s future “very doubtful” and said that she was in a “bad situation.”
Tarpsichev later withdrew his remarks but doubts linger.
What does the future hold for Sharapova?
Can she return if she’s banned for a year or more?
It’s possible, theoretically.
Serena Williams still competes with the same vigour and determination that she displayed when she first burst on the scene as a 16-year-old.
But she and her sister Venus have enjoyed breaks from the game that other tennis stars would term a luxury.
Roger Federer—notwithstanding his withdrawal from this year’s French Open—continues to perform on the big stage and is ranked among the top three.
Federer, though, has fine-tuned his game over the years turning to Swede Stefan Edberg to help improve his serve-and-volley game. Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks and how. Federer may not have clinched a Grand Slam under his tutelage but he’s always the danger man should Murray, Djokovic or Nadal falter.
Williams is, of course, the supreme woman athlete of her generation. But Sharapova with five Slams has not been less consistent over the past few years.
Surely, she can make a fist of this setback and return stronger to the court.
After all, it is this generation of women players that has seen teenagers relegated to the side-lines as the likes of Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Francesca Schiavone proved that age is just a number.
Sharapova reworked her serve post a shoulder surgery. She belongs to the school of hard-hitting baseliners.
Can she add more weapons to her arsenal to overcome her younger opponents? Can she add guile and deception to the mix?
Mentally, she’s been right there in the top echelons.
Can she continue in the same vein on her comeback—if and when it happens?
Can Sharapova return?
Yes, she can.
Why not, you say?
Are you implying that of the 17℅ of Russian athletes tested positive for mildronate were all unaware of the performance-enhancing properties of the drug? Are you unaware that WADA is simply playing catch-up when it comes to listing the numerous synthetic steroids and chemicals that athletes—in this modern age—can and will consume just to get that extra yard of pace, that extra strength, that ounce of stamina, that edge over their competitors? Are fans to believe their PR machinery that they’re simply victims in this ‘arms race‘ of another kind?
Are they that gullible? Really?
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is fear-mongering.
Its president, Craig Reedie, proclaimed that WADA is considering a blanket ban on countries that regularly violate doping guidelines. This should act as sufficient deterrent to prevent or reduce doping across all sports.
“The fact that this is being discussed as a potential sanction is not entirely unhelpful. It’s a very, very serious sanction because it tends to be a pretty blunt instrument. Maybe that’s required. I’m not sure. It’s never been done before. I would want to wait until I see what my expert commission says about this.”
National bans—for varying reasons—have occurred before but it has always been restricted to individual disciplines.
Reedie’s deliberations come in the wake of recent revelations of widespread blood-doping in an investigation launched by Britain’s Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD/WDR.
But WADA itself is toothless and has no powers to impose such a stringent punishment. It can merely lobby and hope.
What this does imply is that WADA believes that doping in some rogue states is systematic and that national anti-doping agencies are in collusion with offenders letting them off lightly.
Reedie admitted that WADA does not quite have the resources to tackle the global menace.
“People who wish to cheat have different and more opportunities to cheat than we have to resolve it in conventional ways.
If somebody produces a completely new substance that should be banned, it will take us some time to firstly identify it and then create a test (for it).
We don’t have enough money, but we’re realistic.
We’re now up to roughly $30 million a year as a budget. I think we have become pretty efficient at doing this much as we’ve been able to do within the restrictions that we have in budget terms. But yes, a little bit more help would be warmly welcomed.
If you look at our new (anti-doping) code, you will see there’s a much greater emphasis on investigations and intelligence gathering, and this involves a whole range of entities — law enforcement, customs and sports people.
You can pick up lots of information which allows you to then target a test, rather than blanket test lots of athletes.
Some of the major successes that the anti-doping movement has made have come from these non-analytical efforts.”
Reedie believes that efforts from athletes themselves where they come clean about their blood results may assist in alleviating suspicions that currently cloud sporting achievements.
We’d like to believe that sport is clean. We’d like to believe that there is no need to monitor athletes when we should be relying that honour and integrity are the code words they abide by.
Unfortunately, reality bites. The presence of agencies like WADA is a necessary tool to safeguard the sanctity of sport. Science and sports have intermingled so closely in recent times that separating what’s right and what’s not is no longer the domain of athletes, coaches and trainers. The more aware we are, the better we are able to respond. The general public, at large, merely perceives. And what it perceives is that ethics is being sacrificed at the altar of Mammon. “Everybody else does it, so why shouldn’t I?” can scarcely be the rallying cry of elite athletes.
And to assume that our heroes are saints is deceiving ourselves. It is also true that athletes are a reflection of their environment and while such a ban may be seem a little too extreme, it may be one solution. Such a ban, however, may benefit the countries that are at the leading edge of developments in science and R&D. They may be able to concoct substances that have not yet been listed as prohibited thus staying one step ahead of their pursuers. Is there not a danger of victimization of less fortunate nations?
There are no easy answers, just easy questions.