New Delhi: Taking note of banned athletes like Ashwini Akkunji and Sini Jose training at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre at Sonepat, Sports Minister Ajay Maken admitted that this was a serious issue and they were probing the matter.
Despite the one-year suspensions handed to some of the athletes -- Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, Jauna Murmu, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas -- in December last year for doping, they have been found to be training at Sonepat`s SAI Centre for some time now, which is in violation to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code.
But Maken assured that the Ministry would look into the matter.
"We are inquiring into it as to how these girls went in there. As far as the government is concerned, there was no involvement and no fund was given. How they (tainted athletes) are there (in SAI Sonepat) is a subject to inquiry," said Maken.
"This is a serious matter and we are looking into it," he added.
The WADA in its code makes the status of athletes during ineligibility period clear. It states: "No athlete or other person who has been declared ineligible may, during the period of ineligibility, participate in any capacity in a competition or activity (other than authorised anti-doping education or rehabilitation programmes) authorised or organised by any signatory, signatory`s member organisation, or a club or other member organisation of a signatory`s member organisation, or in competitions authorised or organised by any professional league or any international or national-level event organisation."
Hence, it came as a surprise that it was through the assistance of SAI that these tainted athletes are being provided training and accommodation.
The National Anti-Doping Appeal (NADA) panel, headed by retired judge CK Mahajan, yesterday upheld the one-year sentence of the four women quartermilers -- Akkunji, Jose, Panwar and Mary Thomas -- and pushed the date of the start of the ban to when the samples were collected, thus making it possible for the athletes to make themselves available for the Olympic trials.
Maken said that if the latest judgement by Mahajan committee was not stayed by International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) then the athletes may just compete in the Olympics to be held from July 27 to August 12.
"Yesterday`s judgement of Justice Mahajan`s committee... if it goes as it is and if there is no stay to the judgement then these girls will get a chance to qualify for the Olympics and represent the country," said Maken.
The sample collection date of Ashwini and Panwar was June 27, 2011, while Sini and Tiana`s collection was on June 12, 2011. So all these athletes can return to competitive action on corresponding dates this year and Maken indirectly stressed that their training at SAI centre might not go in vain.
"Olympic qualifying event for their discipline would be held from June 30 to July 2 in Kazakhstan and if they qualify, they will play in the Olympics, but again it is up to the WADA to stay the order. If suppose they do not get stay and qualify for Olympics, then they will represent the country."
Maken, however, claimed that the government was not funding the athletes.
"As far as government funding is concerned, let me categorically say that no government funding was provided to these girls till the decision happened," he insisted.
After the athletes tested positive in June 2011, they were handed provisional suspensions and were training at Patiala until the Dayal panel handed them one-year bans on December 23.
Following the verdict, the athletes were shifted to Sonepat and had been visiting the Capital for the appeals hearing before the CK Mahajan panel, which has now upheld the one-year suspension.
However, IAAF is likely to appeal against the order to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), seeking an enhancement of the one-year punishment.
Once the case is in the CAS, the IAAF also holds the right to impose provisional suspensions on athletes if the case stretches beyond the date of return of these athletes.