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Sports minister Kiren Rijiju urges WADA chief to lift ban on New Delhi lab

New Delhi, September 10, 2020: Sports minister Kiren Rijiju said on Wednesday the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) here, under suspension by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), has rectified shortcomings and is ready to function again.

WADA suspended the Delhi lab for six months in August 2019 due to non-compliance with its International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) and related technical documents that are mandatory for accreditation and re-accreditation. Without WADA accreditation, the lab cannot test samples of athletes for banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Rijiju held an online meeting with WADA president Witold Banka on Tuesday and urged that the suspension be lifted. The minister stressed India’s keenness to cooperate with WADA to clean up sport and offered more funds and manpower support.

“I have been informed that NDTL has submitted all the 47 corrective action reports to WADA as per timelines defined by WADA and also sent a compliance report on the 13 decision points conveyed by the Chair of the WADA Executive Committee. With this, NDTL now stands fully compliant with all requirements of WADA and the International Standard of Laboratories (ISL). I would request you to expedite the process and organise to lift the suspension of NDTL’s WADA accreditation,” Rijiju said in a sports ministry statement.

A WADA team visited NDTL in September, 2018 for an inspection and suspended the lab a year later for non-compliance of ISL criteria. The suspension was extended by six months in July.

It remains to be seen if the suspension will be lifted promptly. Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 could delay an on-the-spot inspection that is required. The re-affiliation process is also lengthy, which will start with an inspection of the new equipment installed and the staff according to the reports published in hindustantimes.com.

“A series of dummy tests will be carried out at the lab over a period of time and the results will be compared with the other (accredited) labs. All this takes time,” an NDTL official, not authorised to speak to the media and who did not wish to be quoted, said.

Shortage of scientific staff, lack of good equipment, result management and poor testing procedure were some of the issues that resulted in the lab’s suspension.

Fencer Chunni Lal’s case highlighted NDTL’s faulty testing procedure. His urine sample tested positive for anabolic steroid for an overdose of Viagra. But he was cleared in May by WADA after his sample came negative on a retest at the WADA-accredited lab in Rome.

In July 2018, the samples of five top track and field athletes including 400m runner Nirmala Sheoran tested at NDTL came negative, but came out positive on a retest at WADA’s Montreal lab. The athletes were provisionally suspended pending hearing and then banned for four years.

An official familiar with the development said the lab is better equipped now, having installed new machine in June. “Advance testing for banned drugs can be carried out now. The previous machine was installed in 2010,” the official said.

The use and standardisation of IRMS (Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry) machine—that helps endogenous steroids to be distinguished from their synthetic analogs in urine—had not been calibrated and put in use due to the absence of scientific experts.

WADA regularly publishes details addressing specific operational areas of the lab in its technical document and it is mandatory for labs to conform to them as per dates given. NDTL though could not meet that criteria, an official said on condition of anonymity.

NDTL’s suspension has seriously affected India’s anti doping programme in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics. It has forced the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) to send urine and blood samples for testing to foreign labs, which is more expensive.

Recently, USA was critical of WADA’s functioning and threatened to stop funding. WADA has been reaching out to all stakeholders for additional funds to fight doping.

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