Superbike champion Vijay Singh would have joined the infamous list of dope cheats in India if he hadn’t thought out of the box.
He insisted on a DNA analysis to confirm if the urine sample in which a banned anabolic steroid was detected was actually his.
On Thursday, the rider was exonerated after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited lab in London confirmed that the sample which contained the anabolic steroid wasn’t Singh’s, his lawyer Vidushpat Singhania said.
It brought to an end Singh’s quest to clear his name which began over two years ago.
Singh, a 600cc rider, was told he had failed a dope test in late 2018. Samples were collected in-competition by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida during the 2018 national racing championship.
The recreational rider felt something was amiss when an anabolic steroid commonly associated with power sports showed up in his sample.
In January last year, he was banned for four years.
However, instead of accepting his fate, the 35-year-old knocked on the doors of the Delhi High Court to get NADA, which was dragging its feet, to collect his blood and urine sample for DNA analysis at a lab in London.
The process was straightforward: extract DNA from the original sample and compare it with the newer blood and urine samples to check for a match.
“In my case, a bodybuilding steroid showed up. I knew it was impossible. I wasn’t on any medication nor was I taking any whey protein. I had requested the NADA (disciplinary) panel to look at CCTV footage, to question the dope control officer, but they refused. I was ready to pay for the DNA analysis. WADA allows it but the disciplinary panel refused to listen to me. They were very high-handed,” Singh tells The Indian Express.
The manner in which sample was collected at the circuit in late 2018, Singh says, raised concerns.
“My race finished at 9.30 am but they took my urine sample at around 3.30 pm. When I had gone to give my sample, they called everybody together, including the car racing guys. There were 20 people at the place where samples were being collected, including family members and friends of some of the participants. There was no proper protocol,” Singh claims.
According to Singhania, the biker’s ordeal started when he was not given a hearing for over a year. “For one year when they did not give a hearing, we went to the high court (in 2019). The high court gave an order for a hearing. Then the disciplinary panel banned him for four years, saying we will not call for any evidence,” Singhania said.
However, Singh was given a patient hearing by the appeals panel, which gave the go-ahead in March last year for a DNA analysis if he was ready to bear the cost.
WADA too saw no reason to reject the request and referred him to an accredited lab in London.
“NADA sat for months on the WADA reply. Even after the athlete deposited the money for DNA testing, they did not do anything. The athlete organised the courier company. But NADA was like ‘you have paid the money and now wait’. They did not budge,” Singhania claimed.
Singh’s legal team forwarded nearly 30 emails, but samples (blood and urine) for DNA analysis were collected only after the High Court, in March this year, directed NADA to do so within 48 hours of the order.
What about others?
Singh says he is fortunate. Being well off, he could afford to shell out approximately Rs 10 lakh in all, including lawyer fees, testing charges and travel to and fro from Jaipur, where he is based, to Delhi. “The DNA testing alone was Rs 1.5 lakh,” Singh said. He shudders when he thinks what could be the fate of someone with lesser means who takes a similar fight to court.
“I can afford it. I do this (racing) as a recreation. But if tomorrow, say this happens to a wrestler from a modest background, he won’t be able to defend himself because he cannot afford it. He will be back working on a farm.”
Singh is all for weeding out cheats, but says there needs to be a change of culture within the national anti-doping watchdog.
“You can test any time, I have no qualms about that. But if a system does not work like a system but in a very ad-hoc manner, you will get skewed results. It has to work in a systematic manner. Otherwise, what is the point?
At multiple levels, they (NADA) breached protocols and were simply not ready to accept that.”
NADA director general Siddharth Singh Longjam did not respond to calls or messages.