High-profile dope cases in athletics not a healthy sign

It took the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) almost a year to sanction and post star javelin thrower Shivpal Singh’s penalty on its website.
For representational purposes. (File Photo)
For representational purposes. (File Photo)

IT took the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) almost a year to sanction and post star javelin thrower Shivpal Singh's penalty on its website. In the list updated recently, the date of decision is listed as August 16, 2022, while the out-of-competition collection of samples was on September 26 last year. This newspaper had reported about the positive test in January this year. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) did not say much due to procedural issues nor was the list of provisional suspension available.

Though the NADA had updated the sanction after the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) hearing, interestingly, it has not uploaded the order. There was no provisional suspension list either after he was suspended in October. Shivpal competed at the Tokyo Olympics last year and was the best javelin thrower after Neeraj Chopra.

Due to a lack of provisional suspension order or list, there were speculations whether Shivpal tested positive at all or it was just another blip. There were indications that he too consumed a contaminated supplement. The ADDP, though, found the offence severe enough after a long hearing to attract four-year suspension until October 10, 2025.

It has been quite a horrendous year and a half for Indian athletics. Unlike other times, top athletes have tested positive. Asian Games gold medallist MR Poovamma, top national sprinter S Dhanalakshmi, former national record holder in javelin Rajender Singh, discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur, who finished sixth at the Tokyo Olympics, triple jumper Donald Makhimairaj (finished fourth at junior worlds last year), Adesh Yadav, U23 5000m champion last year to name a few. Add the likes of B Aishwarya, second best Indian jumper after Anju Bobby George, and Navjeet Dhillon (shot-putter), too. The list is long and embarrassing.

The AFI always maintained that the issue had been with non-campers but after the recent positive cases like Shivpal, Dhanalakshmi and Poovamma, things see amiss. The NADA finally has updated its provisionally banned athletes list on its website.

Interestingly, out of 30, 12 are from athletics, with prominent names like MV Jilna (quartermiler/sprinter) and Aishwarya figuring on it. Interestingly, Jilna has tested positive for GHRP 2 (palmorelin). Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide 2 is considered a new age drug which is difficult to detect. Blood tests, like in the case of EPO, is the more dependable testing method. However, for EPO there are sophisticated urine tests too. According to various reports and research papers, the drug doesn't last too long in the body and can be broken down by the kidney before passing as urine. GHRP 2 helps the pituitary gland secrete growth hormone, which helps in recovery, build muscle mass and gain strength. It also aids in recovery from injury.

Another trend seen is the increased use of EPO (erythropoietin). Four athletes — all middle and long distance runners — tested positive for dEPO (darbepoetin). Even Adesh tested positive for EPO. It helps bone marrow to produce more blood cells, which helps in reducing fatigue in athletes. In short, more red blood cells mean more oxygen to the tired muscles that eventually reduces fatigue for endurance athletes.
What does WADA say on EPO? A "report had stated that urine tests alone can be used to detect the presence of recombinant EPO. This report... concluded that urinary testing is the only scientifically validated method for direct detection of recombinant EPO. This report also recommended that urine testing be used in conjunction with blood screening for a variety of reasons, including the cost savings of performing blood screening prior to testing urine."

Athlete's biological passport is one such move to detect athlete's haematological variables.
The list also indicates that NADA has started testing blood samples more frequently.
There is one case of Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs), considered a new age drug but harmful for consumption. Among the rest of the cases, the favourite drug seems to be Metandienone (14) and other metabolites of steroids.

Like Ashok Ahuja, former head of sports sciences at NIS Patiala, points out, there are a combination of drugs that seem to be the trend. Unfortunately, he says, athletes are using growth hormones drugs, derbopoetin and even steroids which can be very harmful to the athlete. "Young athletes are suffering from hypertension and cardiac issues due to abuse of growth hormone, EPO and anabolic steroids. Sportspersons need to be aware of such serious side effects that lead to metabolic disorders at a young age and suffer in their later stages of life," he said.

Sometimes the choice between short cut to success and something fatal just blur.

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