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Neelam drags India into dope fiasco

File photo of discus thrower Neelam Jaswant Singh.
File photo of discus thrower Neelam Jaswant Singh.

New Delhi, August 13
India’s veteran discus thrower Neelam Jaswant Singh tested positive for a banned drug, adding a sordid and shameful chapter to the country’s disappointing campaign at the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

After a series of dope scandals in the last Asian Games in Busan and the Olympic Games in Athens, 34-year-old Neelam became the latest to join the list of offenders when she tested positive for pemoline — a banned stimulant — and had been provisionally suspended by the sport’s world governing body.

Neelam stood provisionally suspended under IAAF rules pending a hearing before the relevant disciplinary tribunal of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). The sanction for a first-time violation for pemoline is a minimum of two years.

The athlete, ranked 26th in the world, not only became the first Indian to test positive in a world championship, but was also the first in the Helsinki edition of the prestigious championship.

Neelam, who made it to the final in the Paris World Championships in 2003, could hardly make an impact this time, managing to hurl the discus to a distance of only 56.70 m, far below her personal best of 64.55 m, which won her a gold medal in the 2002 Busan Asiad.

Following the finding in which Neelam, who went out in the preliminary round of the competition on August 7, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) today came out with a press note, saying the athlete had been provisionally suspended.

The test was conducted in-competition in Helsinki on August 7, the IAAF said.

Reacting to the news, AFI Secretary Lalit Bhanot wondered how such a senior athlete could test positive since she must be aware of the drugs in the banned list.

“I am surprised that a senior athlete like Neelam is caught. She can fight her case, but as of now, she stands suspended,” Bhanot said here.

“Being a top athlete, Neelam is always under the scanner of the authorities (World Anti-Doping Agency). She was tested at Patiala and Ludhiana (during the national circuit meets) and cleared the tests,” said Bhanot who had travelled to Helsinki to attend an IAAF meeting.

India had sent a three-member squad to Helsinki, which also included Paris bronze medallist in women’s long jump Anju Bobby George and men’s discus thrower Vikas Gowda.

While Anju finished fifth, the two discus throwers — Neelam and Vikas — went out in the preliminary round.

Neelam’s case is the latest in a series of doping offences by Indian sportspersons, which saw Sunita Rani getting caught in Busan before she was exonerated following loopholes in the laboratory report. At last year’s Athens Olympics, weightlifters had brought disgrace to the country. First, Pratima Kumari was caught for using a banned steroid in a pre-competition test in Athens. Later, Sanamacha Chanu tested positive during the competition for using a banned diuretic.

Chanu was the third Indian lifter to test positive in one calendar year after S. Sunaina and Pratima. It had led to a one-year ban on Indian lifters by the sport’s world governing body. — PTI


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