Curious case of Poovamma and her return

Star quarter-miler MR Poovamma takes part in an international competition with confusion hanging over her ineligibility period after being handed a ban for failing a dope test.
Indian quarter-miler MR Poovamma. (Photo | Express)
Indian quarter-miler MR Poovamma. (Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: In an interesting turn of events, India quarter-miler MR Poovamma, who had been handed an extended two-year period of ban last year, seemingly from June 16, 2022 (as per NADA), figured in an international tournament.

The National Anti-Doping Agency’s website still says “2 Years Ineligibility w.e.f 20.06.2022 (Increase ban period)”, which means she is eligible to compete only in 2024. However, Poovamma, a multiple medallist at the Asian Games and the Asian Athletics Championships, competed in 400m heats at the 101st National Championships in Sri Lanka.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has officially confirmed that Poovamma has been cleared by the NADA. “The NADA has sent us an email where they said her ineligibility period is over and she can compete,” said AFI. Poovamma featured as an unattached athlete. The AFI also said that she has served her period of ineligibility and they would not have sent her if not cleared by NADA. “She went for a review and she was cleared,” said AFI, adding the NADA website apparently is not updated as yet. Even Shivpal Singh has got clearance after review.

When India is under scrutiny after the Operation Carousel of WADA, this could turn into a sore point for NADA. Poovamma’s case was well reported, especially when she was handed an additional two-year ban. As of Friday, even the World Athletics’ anti-doping arm Athletics Integrity Unit website under the Global List of Ineligible Persons also says that she is banned until 20.06.2024.

The Anti-Doping Appeal’s Panel (ADAP) had rejected an earlier order of the Anti-Doping disciplinary panel (ADDP) that suspended her for three months from 20.06.2022. The athlete, who is an integral part of the 4x400 relay team, had tested positive in an in-competition test during Indian Grand Prix I on February 18 in 2021 at Patiala. She challenged the positive case and the ADDP handed her a three-month ban after the hearing. The NADA then appealed against the ban to the ADAP.

According to the order (dated 16.09.2022), the NADA submitted that “ADDP has granted a reduction of penalty under Article 10.6.1 without assigning any cogent reason and without adhering to any rational normal/rule/guidelines.” She tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, a specified substance under World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list.

After hearing both sides, the ADDP said in its order: “We are of the considered opinion that the Appellant has committed an ADRV under Article2.l of the ADR. Once the presence of the prohibited substance is established in the body of the athlete and no exculpatory or mitigating circumstances exist, the natural consequences under the ADR follow.

Therefore, we set aside the impugned order dated 16.06.2022 as passed by Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel and allow the appeal of NADA and consequently impose a sanction of 02 years under Article l0.2.2 ineligibility upon the Athlete.” Though the order doesn’t say from which date but the “List of appeal disposed of by the Anti-Doping Appeal Panel” on the website says her ban period starts from June 20, 2022.

It is understood that the ban period could have been from the date the sample was collected (18.02.2021) and not from the day the ban was imposed (20.06.2022 by ADDP). Eyebrows were raised when there was a delay in Poovamma’s case.

It took almost 17 months for ADDP to hand sanction. She had also contested that she returned positive for using an immunity booster “bedtime latte” during the Covid-19 pandemic. She also spoke about a nasal drop. She also could not prove that any of the supplements was the source of geranium that contained MHA.  It will be interesting to see how the WADA reacts.

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