India's build-up to the Rio Olympics took a turn for the worse on Sunday when National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) confirmed that Rio-bound wrestler Narsingh Yadav had failed a dope test after both his samples tested positive.
"Yes, he (Narsingh) tested positive for a banned steroid. His B sample was also found to be positive. Narsingh was personally present when his B sample was opened," the NADA Director General Navin Agarwal told PTI.
Narsingh appeared before a NADA disciplinary panel on Saturday. Sources said he had tested positive for methandienone — a banned anabolic steroid.
Responding to the failed dope test, Narsingh has cried conspiracy, claiming his food supplements and water intake was sabotaged to stop him from participating in the Rio Olympics. "I believe that there is foul play involved in this entire episode. Someone has sabotaged my food supplements and water intake," the wrestler said on Sunday.
In an interview to The Indian Express, the 26-year-old wrestler highlighted the fact that he had no reason to take such a steroid so close to the Olympics, especially when he has refrained from taking any banned substance throughout his career. "Why would I dope so close to the Olympics? Why would any athlete do that? It's about my life. I have been preparing this moment for the last four years. Now, with just four weeks before Olympics, why would I do something so silly?" he told The Indian Express.
"I take pride in the fact that I have competed in every competition, international and domestic, in an honest, fair and transparent manner and I will continue to do so. I am a responsible athlete with an understanding of the country's expectations and hopes on me. I would never dream of betraying that hope," Narsingh had previously asserted in a statement.
"I have undergone three tests in the last month and a half. I appeared for a dope test on the 2nd of June before leaving for a training camp in Bulgaria. I was again tested on my return on the 25 June and once again on the 5 July," he added.
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the WFI President came out and backed the wrestler. "Narsingh has a clean record and would be foolish to jeopardise his career by taking a banned substance just days before the Olympics.
"It is our duty to protect Narsingh and all our wrestlers. Narsingh's record is clean. He is someone who never shied away from dope tests. In fact whenever he was asked for his samples, he has always been very prompt in submitting it, without any hesitation" Brij Bhushan said.
The WFI President wasn't the only one to rush to Narsingh's defence, but GS Sangha, the Wrestling coach at the SAI center in Mumbai, where Narsingh usually trains was left short of words to describe the situation of despair for one of his favourite pupils.
"Whenever he was in our camp, Narsingh used to tell kids to never indulge in all this. He used to talk to even 10-year-old kids. He used to tell them to reach the top only through sheer hard work. See what has happened to him now," the coach told DNA.
Sangha also shed light on Narsingh's discipline when it came to dietary habits, claiming he never used to break his diet even when practicing in Mumbai or when at a national camp. He often used to to cite Narsingh's example to budding wrestlers while stressing the importance of discipline necessary for the sport.
As far as the drug methandieone is concerned, before being informed about his failed dope test while training at the SAI center in Sonipat, Narsingh claimed he hadn't heard of the drug before and it was of no use to a wrestler.
"No. This is the first time I have heard of this drug. I had not heard of it before. I asked my doctor about it and he explained what this drug does.
Whatever this drug is, it is not of any use to a sportsman. It is for muscle development. It is of no use in wrestling." Narsingh told Indian Express.
Methandienone — the substance that was found in Narsingh's sample — is a performance enhancing substance. It aids protein synthesis and muscle growth in a short span of time. “This is an anabolic steroid which belongs to the Nandrolone group. It helps in muscle building and for producing explosive power,” PSM Chandran, former director of sports medicine (Sports Authority of India) told Indian Express.
When taken orally — as it is suspected to be the case with Narsingh — the traces of the substance remain in the body at least for a period of 2-4 weeks, making it more unlikely for a seasoned sportsman like Narsingh to subscribe to it so close to the Olympics.
“I won’t comment on foul play, but given it’s Metadienone, the timing is very, very intriguing. You have to be a complete dud to try this.’’ Dr Ashok Ahuja, expert and senior doctor who served with the Sports Authority of India’s medical team for over two decades, told Indian Express.
In addition, the drug helps in water retention which leads to gain in weight. So at a time when the wrestlers are going through weight loss regimes, consuming the drug makes no sense at all.
CEO of JSW Sports, Mustafa Ghouse — organization who has been funding Narsingh — highlighted this aspect, backing the Maharashtra-based wrestler.
To be talking about an S1 agent for weight,muscle gain at a time when every wrestler is on a weight loss program says all. #BackingNarsingh
— Mustafa Ghouse (@MustafaGhouse) July 24, 2016
Surprisingly, Methandienone is also an out-dated drug and one that is freely available in medical stores without any medical prescription. The drug also comes in a tablet form, making it easier to mix in food supplements.
Narsingh who is already provisionally suspended by WFI, faces a two year ban sources have told Firstpost. That would not just rule him out of the Rio Olympics, but also see him miss the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games — competitions where Narsingh has performed well in the past. The two-year absence will also leave him in bad shape to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So would Narsingh risk all this for a better shot at a medal in Rio, when he is already among the top contenders? Logic doesn't approve of it.
"I have been a professional freestyle wrestler for over 15 years and I have undergone almost 25-30 dope tests. I have come out clean every single time and never have any of my samples returned positive results," Narsingh had stated in a statement to the media on Sunday.
Maharashtra Chief minister Devendra Fadanvis has also backed Narsingh's claim of a conspiracy and has requested Union sports minister Vijay Goel to look into the matter. Narsingh resides in the Jogeshwari area of Mumbai and the Maharashtra CM has done his bit to push for the wrestler's innocence, if various reports in the media are to be believed.
All the developments in the saga point towards a conspiracy which, if proved, would free him of all charges and get him on the plane to Rio, but if not would jeopardize a blossoming career. It would be unfair to drag Sushil Kumar into the fiasco, but it would be difficult to imagine this situation arising had the Sushil-Narsingh tussle not snowballed into a court battle.
But so far it appears that Narsingh Yadav is a victim of a conspiracy and not doping.
With inputs from agencies