The National Anti-Doping Agency's Director General Navin Agarwal on Wednesday said the body will conduct its disciplinary hearings online from Friday despite the many logistical challenges to ensure cases don't pile up due to the national lockdown.
NADA hearings have not been taking place due to the lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. "That's right, we will be starting with our online hearings from May 8. Both Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) and Anti-Doping Appeals Panel (ADAP) hearings will be conducted for the cases which are pending," Agarwal told PTI in an interview.
"Last year, they (ADDP and ADAP) did a remarkable job and disposed off so many cases which hasn't happened earlier in the history of NADA. Our panels disposed off 180 cases which is a record for the agency," he asserted.
Agarwal acknowledged that the unprecedented step would have its share of operational hassles. Listing inconsistent or unavailable internet as one of them, Agarwal said athletes will be allowed to participate via audio calls to ensure that things can be managed smoothly.
"We understand that the athlete needs to have the (internet) facility at his home for the hearings. I know there are limitations. We are working on that and made arrangements at our level. It will only be done on the availability of an athlete through either audio or video. I know in rural areas, internet bandwidth can be an issue or network, we are game with even an audio recording or a conference call," he explained.
NADA had earlier conceded that testing has become difficult because of the lockdown. Agarwal said efforts are on streamline the process. "We are requesting the ministry as the campuses in NIS Patiala and Spots Authority of India (SAI) Bengaluru are closed and have barred entry or exit of any outsiders as per government guidelines. So we are taking this up with ministry and would like to know whether our Dope Control Officers (DCOs) will be allowed inside the campuses for testing subject to all clearances," he said.
Agarwal said another aspect of the task is the health of DCOs. "...we have to ensure that DCOs should not have any COVID-19 symptoms and (they must not have) come in contact with patients in the last 14 days," he said.
"That is something that the management of the concerned training centres will be doing. Temperature checks of anyone who is entering from outside the campuses should not be a problem. Our DCOs have already been advised to follow social distancing norms, maintain a distance of 2 metres from the athlete and use masks and gloves and sanitisers," he added.
Agarwal said the testing can resume once the national camps begin again. Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has said that efforts are on to get them restarted by the end of this month. And what happens to the collected samples in the absence of a WADA-accredited laboratory in the country and the many restrictions on flights abroad, which might come in the way of sending them to labs oustide? "The cargo flights are still very much on so sending the samples (to Doha or Belgium labs) for testing is not an issue," Agarwal responded. "...but it also depends from where the sample has been collected and also on the courier agency which delivers the sample. We have to find the availability of flights as timing is very important"
"It has to reach the destination in limited time frame," he explained. Among other developments, Agarwal said NADA is also ready with its app, which would come in handy in educating athletes on the perils of doping violations. "We will soon be launching the NADA app, through which anti-doping awareness would be available. We will be also generating certificates for athletes, coaches, parents, who successfully complete the course along with answering the questionnaire," he said.