GOLD COAST: Two days before the closing ceremony, India was embroiled in an embarrassing and needless controversy. Call it naïve or downright stupidity, Indian athletes have seemingly got caught twice for the same offence. Two athletes — race walker KT Irfan and triple jumper Rakesh Babu — were asked to leave the Games Village after they were found violating the Games' ‘no needle policy’. Their accreditations have been suspended and were asked to leave Gold Coast by the first available flight. This is a new policy adopted by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) to reduce doping.
The CGF took this extreme step because this was India’s second offence. Just before the start of the Games, two boxers were reprimanded after needles were found outside their room. This time the CGF did not give any leeway. Three officials represented India at the hearing — chef de mission Vikram Singh Sisodia, general team manager Namdev Shirgaonkar and athletics team manager Ravinder Chaudhry — besides the athletes in question. The CGF strongly reprimanded the officials and told them any such infraction would attract the same penalty.
Deputy chief national athletics coach Radhakrishnan Nair’s explanation was baffling. He said the syringe was found because the athlete was coming from Patiala and changed many bags. Basically indicating that athletes carry syringes! The team management was dismissing it as an insulin syringe. The coach said he was suffering from diabetes and he has brought insulin shots and he has declared it. According to him, the syringe found in Rakesh Babu's bag was single shot insulin. In the early 2000s, there were indications that athletes were abusing insulin as performance-enhancing drugs. This may not be related but it a coincidence that the coach travels with insulin shots.
Irfan and Rakesh were sharing a room and the needle was found in a cup on a table shared by the two. This was seen and reported by an Incognitus Cleaner and was confirmed by their Operations Managers. The incident took place on April 9 and the Indian team was informed about this on April 10. A hearing followed. After deliberations in the CGF court, the decision was conveyed to the Indian delegates on Friday.
The CGF was in no mood to pardon them. The body's president Louise Martin said during the routine morning press briefing that “the athletes’ testimony was both evasive and unreliable,” he said. “They are clearly in breach of ‘no needle policy’ and we have acted accordingly. They failed to ensure compliance with the ‘no needle policy’ and, in particular, failed to ensure compliance with paragraphs I, II, III and IV of the No Needle Policy," a CGF statement read. “All the four paragraphs refer to the norms related to the declaration of needle usage.
"We have asked the Commonwealth Games Association of India to ensure both athletes depart Australia on the first flight available."
The Indian delegation, however, felt it was a hasty decision. “The syringe was found in Rakesh Babu’s bag and the needle too was his. Why should they ban KT Irfan as well?” asked Shirgaonkar. India, as usual, was defensive and were playing the victim card. "We don't agree with some decisions, and we will discuss with our higher authorities. We will appeal against these decisions," Shirgaonker said. They also explained how the athletes failed to comply with the guidelines set by the Indian contingent. “We made them sign a declaration and we told Nair on March 30 during a meeting about it (no needle policy),” he said. Nair said he conveyed the guidelines to the athletes. But to no avail.
CGF arrived at this conclusion after taking into account a testimony by an 'Incognitus Cleaners Operations Manager'. “The testimony of an Incognitus Cleaners Operations Manager as to the discovery of a needle in a cup on the bedside table in bedroom 2 of Apartment 7 in the Games Village assigned to CGA India and occupied by Rakesh Babu - Athlete, Triple Jump, and Irfan Kolothum Thodi - Athlete, Race Walk (“Bedroom 2”) is credible," the statement said. "The testimony of the Australia Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) Principal Investigator as to the discovery of a syringe in the bag of Rakesh Babu found in Bedroom 2 which said bag Rakesh Babu admitted to be his property is credible."
It, however, discounted the versions put forth by Rakesh and Irfan. “The testimony of athletes Rakesh Babu and Irfan Kolothum Thodi who denied all knowledge of the needle in the cup in Bedroom 2 and the further testimony of Rakesh Babu that he had no knowledge of the syringe found in his bag in Bedroom 2 are both unreliable and evasive." While Irfan had already completed his discipline (20km race walk), Rakesh had qualified for the final of the triple jump.
The management is perplexed as to why Irfan was banned when the syringe was actually found in Rakesh's bag. That is why they are appealing. "There is a lot of confusion as to why our athletes were banned. Why was Irfan banned when the syringe was found in Babu's bag," Choudhry said. "How is the CGF so confident that both athletes were using the same syringe? Babu admitted but what (about) Irfan," he added.
Shirgaonkar even said that lifter Vikas Thakur too was unfairly treated. The day he was to leave, officials forced him to open his bag. “They should have spoken to only Rakesh Babu and Irfan. But they forcefully spoke to Thakur.”
This episode comes hot on the heels of another syringe-based incident just before the Games began last week. That time, a syringe was found near a room where a couple of boxers were put up. At that time, the CGF had only issued a reprimand. Chaudhry was livid with the athletes. “We have told each one of them. The national coach told them yet this was discovered in an athlete’s bag.”
More dope tests?
According to IOA officials, after the syringe was found on April 9, the athletes’ urine and blood samples were taken for testing. The Australian Anti-Doping Agency, who have been tracking Indian athletes for the last few months, even paid the wrestlers a surprise visit in India. After the appearance of a needle next to the room of a couple of boxers, more Indian athletes have been picked out at random. “Almost all athletes have been tested,” said an official. Even shooters were not left alone.