What Narsingh Yadav’s Options Are in the Aftermath of His Four-Year Ban

The ad hoc division’s panel imposed a four-year ban on Yadav and remarked that the wrestler’s claims of sabotage were “not probable and certainly not grounded in any real evidence.”

Wrestler Narsingh Yadav coming out of the NADA office after a hearing, in New Delhi. Credit: PTI/Shahbaz Khan

Wrestler Narsingh Yadav coming out of the NADA office after a hearing, in New Delhi. Credit: PTI/Shahbaz Khan

Scientific evidence presented by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prevailed over circumstantial evidence put forward by wrestler Narsingh Yadav at the ad hoc division of Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)  in Rio on August 18.

The detailed CAS order, released on August 21, ruled that Yadav was guilty of an “intentional” ingestion of a banned substance and should be banned for four years. The panel was satisfied that “the most likely explanation was the athlete simply and intentionally ingested the prohibited substance in tablet form on more than one occasion.”

Yadav tested positive for the steroid methandienone on June 25, which jeopardised his chance of competing in the Rio Olympic Games, which have recently concluded. In a hearing process held in-camera, a three-member Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel exonerated the wrestler on the grounds of ‘sabotage’ by a fellow competitor, paving the way for his re-induction into the freestyle 74-kg draw in Rio.

WADA, however, appealed and the CAS ad hoc panel examined the case on August 18, less than a day before Yadav’s Olympic events were to begin. The panel set aside the ADDP order and imposed a four-year ban on the UP wrestler, plunging the Indian contingent into gloom and leaving the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) fuming.

The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), the agency that brought up the two positive tests against Yadav (the second one was on July 5 at WADA’s behest), played the role of prosecutor against Yadav during the Indian proceedings. However, apparently under political pressure, NADA tried to derail Yadav’s appeal process when the CAS proceedings came up in Rio.

When WADA ordered a second test on July 5 – just 10 days after NADA’s first test at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Regional Centre in Sonepat – the organisation probably did not imagine that the second test’s results would prove to be the most important factor in rebutting the wrestler’s ‘sabotage’ theory.

The fact that WADA had requested NADA for a second test on the wrestler was revealed by the sports minister through a suo motu statement in parliament on July 28. The WFI is now alleging that NADA conducted the second test based on a tip from a SAI official, after the ‘people who spiked Yadav’s food’ made sure that a second test would come positive by spiking it again. WFI would do well to read the minister’s statement.

Normally the second positive result, conducted just 10 days after the first test comes up positive, would be of little significance in the anti-doping sphere of concerns. Unless the athlete being tested was notified about the first offence, the second positive result would be treated as a single offence under the rule – particularly in this case where the substance in both instances happened to be the same steroid, methandienone.

But the second test’s analysis turned out to be the most crucial evidence that led to the rejection of the ‘sabotage’ theory and Yadav’s suspension.

WADA’s expert witness Christiane Ayotte, the director of the Laval, Quebec, an accredited laboratory, stated that the long-term metabolite of methandienone in the second urine sample (July 5), at 20 ng/ml was five times more than the first one (June 25). This, the renowned anti-doping research expert suggested, was clearly due to a second ingestion of the steroid rather than a single dose.

Ayotte also stated that the substance was ingested as a therapeutic dose and not in the form of a suspension in water. She concluded that there was a difference of at least 12 to 20 hours between Yadav ingesting the substance and his roommate, Sandeep Tulasi Yadav, taking it.

Sandeep also tested positive for methandienone on a sample collected on the same day, June 25. At first they alleged that the supplements they were taking might have been contaminated or spiked. Then they said that the amino drink they were taking had been spiked at the same time.

Curiously, on August 1, Navin Agarwal, NADA’s director general (DG), briefed the media on ADDP’s results saying, “The report about indicative estimated concentration of prohibited substance in the sample collected on June 25 has substantially reduced in the sample collected on July 5.”

Panel proceedings

Were NADA and ADDP unable to read and understand the significance of a spike in the long-term metabolite of methandienone in the July 5 sample? Or was Agarwal given the wrong figures for metabolite concentrations? Worse still, did the DG and the panel miss the significance of a substantial increase in the values?

Metabolites, which vary in numbers and concentrations for different substances, indicate the presence of banned substances if they are detected in an athlete’s urine. A parent substance is more likely to be detected in the urine sample if it is collected closer to the time of ingestion, as was the case with Yadav’s roommate. Different metabolites in these substances get washed out of the consumer’s system over a period of time until none exist.

The three-member CAS panel concluded that the “concentration of the prohibited substance in the first test result was so high that it had to come from an oral ingestion of one or two tablets of methandienone rather than from a drink where the powder had been mixed with water.”

Ayotte’s contention that methandienone is not easily mixed in water and would remain suspended drew a defensive response from Yadav’s counsel. He said that the amino powder Yadav was using also left particles suspended and the wrestler couldn’t have differentiated between the two.

The lawyer also claimed that a junior wrestler, who was named as the ‘culprit’ in Yadav’s police complaint, might have spiked Yadav’s amino drink. However, the CAS did not give too much importance to the lawyer’s claim. After returning from Rio, Yadav again claimed that his drink had been spiked several times during his training period.

If a second spiking by the rival wrestler, Jitesh, could be proven, then Yadav would have been able to explain the increased levels of long-term metabolite of methandienone in his July 5 sample. Notably, this second incident – or the occurrence of repeated incidents – had not been reported at this point.

In fact, the panel noted that another piece of evidence had not been reported at the time the initial charges came to light. The panel was referring to an incident that allegedly took place on June 5 and was revealed through affidavits from three kitchen employees at the SAI Centre in Sonepat. They claimed that Jitesh poured a substance into a curry that was being cooked in the kitchen and was subsequently served to Yadav.

According to the panel:

Panel noted in the closing remarks that the athlete’s counsel submitted that he may have been subject to further sabotage but all in all found the sabotage(s) possible but not probable and certainly not grounded in any real evidence. The panel therefore determined that the athlete had failed to satisfy his burden of proof and the panel was satisfied that the most likely explanation was the athlete simply and intentionally ingested the prohibited substance in tablet form on more than one occasion.

Next up for Yadav

WADA has left room for Yadav to further pursue the case following the completion of the police investigation and a possible court verdict against Jitesh. In such an eventuality, the agency suggested that the athlete could take the case to the Swiss Supreme Court and seek relief. Should this scenario come to pass, it is possible that the CAS might have to review the merits of the case again if the Swiss court were to rule for such a review.

Drawing from the ADDP’s order and submissions from Yadav’s counsel, Jitesh has been described in various parts of the CAS order as a member of Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar’s entourage, a ‘competitor’ and an “associate of Mr. Kumar, a rival wrestler who had made threats to the athlete; these threats had been made known to the police.”

Kumar unsuccessfully fought a legal battle in the Delhi high court to get a trial with Yadav as a way to determine which wrestler would be selected for the Rio Olympics. However, this is the first time that the allegations against Kumar have been made public as part of the submissions made to a panel or as part of the orders made by such panels.

As one of the first respondents, NADA – and not the more logical choice of  WFI – could have been expected to keep quiet rather than attempt to scuttle WADA’s appeal at the admission stage itself. This, since it was the agency that brought the case against Yadav and sought sanctions against him before the ADDP.

NADA’s contention that WADA should have waited for it (NADA) to exhaust its right of appeal (which would have at least helped Yadav to compete unless WADA sought an interim stay from CAS) was rejected on the simple argument that it had not done so till August 13.

The Indian agency’s argument that this was an out-of-competition test done on June 25 and a provisional suspension was imposed on July 16 and that this had nothing to do with the Olympic Games (so it could fall under the CAS ad hoc division’s jurisdiction) was also dismissed. The NADA argument was that neither June 25 nor July 16 came within the period of jurisdiction of the CAS ad hoc division, since it was only functional from ten days before the Games, which started on August 5. The CAS panel ruled that the matter came up only because of the ADDP’s decision on Aug 1 exonerating the athlete, thereby making him eligible for Olympics. By Aug 1 CAS ad hoc division was fully functional.

The ad hoc division jurisdiction was effective from ten days before the start of the Olympic Games (August 5) and through the duration of the games. On his return from Rio, Yadav stated that his career will be ruined if he is not reinstated. He has once again urged the prime minister to intervene. The Haryana police, according to the wrestler, have made no headway in tracking Jitesh, who the CAS panel was informed has been “absconding”.

The WFI has, in the meantime, continued its campaign for a CBI enquiry into the whole incident.