Anti-doping drive takes a hit as Wada suspends New Delhi lab

Nihal Koshie
Sports minister Kiren Rijiju, the chairman ex-officio of NDTL confirmed that an appeal would be filed against the suspension.

With World Championships for several disciplines just round the corner, Wada s decision to ban the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) for six months is expected to hamper India s anti-doping programme.

Since most of the out-of-competition testing is done during training camps before big events, the extra cost involved in sending samples abroad might see a drop in the number of athletes who are tested. Moreover, foreign labs too will have a high workload, and the results of the samples from Indian athletes might not get priority. However, sports secretary and NDTL CEO Radhey Shyam Julania conceded that the anti-doping scrutiny will suffer but added that the athletes going for international events will have to be tested.

Yes it will affect anti-doping awareness. Our current target (for this year) was 3,000 samples, which we have completed. We were targeting about 10,000 till September 2020. If my costs go up four times, the number of samples collected for testing will reduce by one-fourth so I don t incur extra burden. They (foreign labs) will charge much more and (tests will) cost more. I cannot adversely affect the finances of the government. We will carry out only those anti-doping tests, which are essential for us for international competitions. Instead of promoting anti-doping, WADA is halting the work of the government of India. if the world body stops and disables me, it leads me to do the reverse of what my aim is, Julania said.

Sports minister Kiren Rijiju, the chairman ex-officio of NDTL confirmed that an appeal would be filed against the suspension. There were some issues in the past. After taking over as sports minister, I have taken congnizance of those issues and a course correction has been initiated. It is disheartening that despite these efforts, Wada has taken this stance. We will appeal against this ban and the process of appeal is already underway, Rijiju said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Wada has given the details of the suspension and charted the way ahead for the country s anti-doping programme. The suspension, which took effect on 20 August 2019, prohibits the NDTL from carrying out any anti-doping activities, including all analysis of urine and blood samples. During the period of suspension, samples that have not yet been analyzed by the NDTL; samples currently undergoing a confirmation procedure; and any samples for which an Adverse Analytical Finding has been reported, must be securely transported to another WADA-accredited laboratory. Wada also informed that NDTL did not meet the requirement of the International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) during the visit to India.

The 47 inadequacies found at NDTL included isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) analytical method, which is used detect micro-doping using anabolic steroid testosterone by athletes.

On an average for every 3,000 samples tested, NDTL uses the IRMS method in 15 to 20. It is learnt that Wada wanted the re-validation of the process of IRMS at the New Delhi lab. Wada also wanted the standard operating procedure at NDTL to be re-validated by an ISO certification and called for improvements in quality management.

The lack of an alarm system in refrigerators, batteries being stored in the corridor, not enough CCTVs, man power issues were the other red-flags raised by Wada. Julania confirmed that NDTL had addressed 43 of the 47 shortcomings and the re-validation process for the rest required a visit by a Wada team. They said that the team would visit sometime in January. We insisted their team visit early. But they could not send the team and then they decided to suspend our registration, Julania said.

In the recent past at least three samples of Indian athletes tested positive at foreign labs after NDTL didn t report an adverse analytical finding. The samples were re-tested on the insistence of Wada.

When asked specifically about retesting of samples from NDTL, a Wada spokesperson said: From time to time we order for a selection of samples to be taken from one lab to another for re-analysis. This is to ensure quality control across different labs and is not unusual.