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Explained: How can Bajrang Punia - provisionally suspended - still qualify for Paris Olympics?

Despite being suspended, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia can still qualify for the Paris Olympics. But the road to Paris for Bajrang will be far tougher than fighting a bout on the mat.

Explained: How can Bajrang Punia - provisionally suspended - still qualify for Paris Olympics?

Bajrang Punia is a Tokyo Olympics bronze medal-winning wrestler. (Photo credit: SAI)


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 7 May 2024 8:37 AM GMT

After spearheading a year-long protest, seeking justice for his fellow women's wrestlers against alleged sexual abuses by former Wrestling Federation of India (AFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, star wrestler Bajrang Punia has again found himself in the news.

This time, too, for non-sporting reasons, as the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) slapped a provisional suspension on the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist for his reluctance to submit urine samples at the national selection trials in Sonipat on March 10.

The suspension, coming just a little over two and half months before the curtain raiser for the Paris Olympics, has put Punia's qualification to the spectacle at a crossroads.

The suspension, making him ineligible for any event, has come just four days before the World Olympic Qualifiers, slated for May 9 in Istanbul, Turkey. It was the last chance for Bajrang to secure his ticket to Paris.

What is brewing?

The 30-year-old wrestler from Khudan village of Haryana's Jhajjar district reportedly refused to submit his urine samples during the national selection trials at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Sonipat centre in March when the NADA officials approached him.

At the event, Bajrang, who was making a comeback with an intent to compete in the Olympic qualifiers, went down in the men's 65kg semifinal against Rohit 9-1. After the defeat, he left the venue immediately and didn’t turn up for the third-fourth place deciding bout.

NADA, which surprisingly submitted the report of Bajrang's suspension to the now-dissolved ad-hoc committee, which was in charge of the then-suspended WFI until March 18, accused Bajrang of non-cooperation.

As shocking as it may sound both the WFI and the former head of the dissolved ad-hoc committee, Bhupender Singh Bajwa, claimed they were not informed about Bajrang's suspension.

WFI president Sanjay Singh said, "It is really surprising that NADA did not keep us in the loop while suspending Bajrang. I had a meeting with NADA DG and other officials on April 25 and this matter was not raised in that meeting."

On his part, Bajrang shot back and presented his version of the story in a video on X, claiming he was given expired kits for an out-of-competition test in December last year. He sought an explanation from the NADA but found no answer.

“I want to clarify the news about me being asked to take a dope test!!! I never refused to give my sample to NADA officials, I requested them to first answer me as to what action they took on the expired kits they brought to take my sample (earlier) and then take my dope test. My lawyer Vidush Singhania will reply to this letter in time,” Bajrang posted on X.

Bajrang, as sought by NADA, now has to submit a detailed written explanation on May 7.

With Bajrang serving suspension, only Sujeet Kalkal will represent India in the 65kg category at the Istanbul Olympic qualifiers.

What does the provisional suspension mean?

Regardless of the context in which Bajrang refused to give his samples, his refusal amounted to an anti-doping rule violation, as per the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code.

According to Article 2.3 of the WADA code "evading Sample collection; or refusing or failing to submit to Sample collection without compelling justification after notification by a duly authorized Person" will mean "an anti-doping rule violation".

Thus, Bajrang's refusal to submit his urine sample amounted to non-cooperation. As a result, Bajrang has been suspended provisionally with NADA seeking an explanation from him about his action.

The WADA further explained what happens when an athlete refuses to submit a sample.

"Refusing to submit to doping control can carry the same sanction as a positive test," read the WADA explanation.

"If an athlete refuses to take a test when notified, he/she must provide an explanation for the refusal on the relevant form and inform his/her governing body as soon as possible," it added.

Whether NADA would impose a full-fledged sanction or withdraw the provisional sanction on Bajrang will depend on his explanations of his action on May 7.

Can Bajrang still qualify for the Paris Olympics?

Yes. But his road to Paris in such a scenario will be far more difficult than fighting on the mat.

Given the current circumstances, it is clear that Bajrang has missed the bus of earning direct qualification. Sujeet will represent India in the 65kg category at the World Olympic Qualifiers, the last chance for Indian wrestlers to secure their entry into the Paris Olympics.

If Sujeet wins a quota place, Bajrang's Paris Olympics future will depend on the WFI and NADA's decisions. Even if the NADA lifts the suspension, the WFI may organise a trial or give the quota place winner a go.

But the fact that Bajrang, an experienced wrestler with a proven track record, is missing the trials is itself a big blow, as India might lose a chance to secure quota place in the first place itself.

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