NEW DELHI: Baffling would perhaps be the apt word to describe the obscure performance-enhancing drug that has found its way into India. The recent positive test of Neeraj Phogat for ligandrol (also LGD 4033) stunned even the National Anti-Doping Agency that believes the issue is serious.Ligandrol is a Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator (SARM) that was developed to treat elderly patients suffering from muscle and nerve damage. It is illegal to buy anywhere in the world as the American company developing it has still not approved it for human consumption. But the drug is freely available on the black market especially in eastern European countries, with many online sites selling it. There were even reports that it was being used on racehorses.
Neeraj’s case was initially thought to be the first instance of the substance being used in India. However, after digging a bit deeper, it has been found that the drug has been in use for at least a year. There have been instances when international players tested positive and the numbers seem to increase after 2016. But in India, it started sometime late in 2018.
The first case, apparently, was in December last year when Nikhil Tugnait tested positive for the substance. The weightlifter was finally handed a four-year ban in October.
The drug surfaced again during testing of weightlifters this year at the national championships in March. Samples collected in March, April and May from lifters returned positive for LGD. Siyaram Gurjar tested positive for the substance towards the end of March as did Neetu Khara in April. Both were subsequently banned for four years. Then another lifter — Deepika Shripal — tested positive for the drug in May. As it was her second offence, she was banned for eight years.
NADA is concerned with the increasing number of cases involving this new drug. Interestingly, one of the lifters apparently told the hearing panel that she had taken the drug inadvertently while consuming a supplement. Apparently, while checking her so-called contaminated supplement, it was found that the mention of LGD was there on the container.
According to anti-doping experts, the drug is new and even doctors would struggle to reveal more about it. Former head of sports science at NIS Patiala, Ashok Ahuja, too felt that unless doctors or athletes are educated, the substance will go undetected. “Anti-doping experts don’t even know the exact side-effects,” said Ahuja.
3814 samples, 156 positive
Ahead of the next Olympics, NADA has tested 3814 samples since January so far, out of which 156 returned positive. Athletics lead the field when it comes to samples collected, with 1127 out of which 20 has returned positive so far. The rate for bodybuilding is high as close to 50 per cent of samples returned positive (60 out of 127 samples). Weightlifting is a major worry as well, with 26 weightlifters testing positive in the last 11 months.
The NADA will up its ante on anti-doping measures before the Olympics. NADA director-general, Navin Agarwal, felt the number of samples collected ahead of the Olympics will definitely be substantial. “We have increased detection rate and all Olympic-bound athletes would be continuously monitored.” The athletes, depending on risk factors, would be tested more than once.
Shooting too a concern
The NADA document revealed that two shooters failed dope tests this year. One of them, Pawan Yadav had tested positive for propranolol and beta blockers in March. NADA had imposed a two-year ban on him on July 22.