New Delhi: India's sporting icon, 2004 Athens Olympics silver medalist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has a dark secret, a secret that has been hidden for nine years. It is a secret that will shake the very foundations of Indian sport. Rathore, whose medal is universally accepted as the turning point in India's Olympic history, failed a drug test a month before the games began on August 11 2004. Worryingly, this information has been withheld from not just the public, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well.
As part of his Olympic preparations, Rathore took part in the Asian Clay Shooting Championship in Bangkok from the July 1-10 2004. As expected, he won the individual gold as well as the team gold with Moraad Ali Khan and Ronjan Sodhi as his team-mates. After winning the event, Rathore moved back to Europe to continue his preparations.
On July 30, 2004 Rathore's preparations for the Athens Olympics were shattered when the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) sent a confidential fax to the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), a copy of which is with CNN-IBN. The ISSF informed the then NRAI President Digvijay Singh (who passed away in 2010) that Rathore, then a major in the Indian army, had failed a test for a prohibited substance called Prednisolone which fell under the category of glucocorticosteroids.
With the Olympics just days away, the ISSF asked the NRAI to inform Rathore about the violation and for a statement explaining why a prohibited substance had been found in his urine sample. Rathore was given until August 2 2004 to respond. Two days later, Rathore wrote a letter in which he denied taking the drugs. CNN-IBN has a copy of this document as well.
In his letter, Rathore listed his achievements and argued that he never tested positive at any major international competition. He explained that over the last three months he had taken some mild anti-allergy treatments or antibiotic treatments for skin rashes. Rathore also requested the ISSF to conduct the B sample at an
independent laboratory in Australia rather than the same World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) accredited lab in Bangkok.
However, Rathore never mentioned a medical notification in his reply and neither did the ISSF in its communication. As glucocorticosteroids were a specified substance, a simple medical notification if possessed would have cleared him.
On August 5 2004, the ISSF wrote back to the NRAI informing them that Rathore's B sample was tested and that it too was positive. However, the ISSF accepted Rathore's defense that he did not take the banned drug. The letter signed by ISSF President Olegario Vazquez Rana and the then ISSF Secretary General Horst G Schreiber let Rathore off on the advice of its Medical Commission and Doping Panel. The ISSF decided that as the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was just days away, there would be no further investigation and no decision would be taken in this very special case.
Here, the ISSF made a massive procedural error. The 2004 WADA code made it clear that an athlete can be cleared only after a hearing process. In this case the ISSF waived the hearing process entirely. Neither did it mention this case to the IOC.
In a notification dated June 4 2004, the IOC had informed all concerned authorities that the WADA rules for the Athens Olympics would come into effect from July 30 2004, the day the athletes village at Athens opened. As Rathore's positive test was intimated to the NRAI on the very day the rules kicked in, logic suggests the ISSF should have informed the IOC that an athlete with an Olympic quota had failed a drug test.
The ISSF did no such thing. CNN-IBN contacted the IOC asking them if they had been informed. In a reply dated May 3 2013, the IOC denied any knowledge. "To answer your question in relation to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, to the best of our knowledge, neither the ISSF not the NRAI had informed nor contacted the IOC on this matter, which relates to a test conducted prior to the Olympic Games."
When asked if they followed all due processes the ISSF defends itself in a communication with CNN-IBN on May 5 2013. ISSF Secretary General Franz Schreiber (son of the late Horst G Schreiber) wrote: "In 2004, following their initial review of the case, the ISSF medical committee had initially decided not to assert the anti-doping rule violations based on their appreciation and review of the case. Such a decision was well in accordance with all anti doping rules."
Sources in the IOC say if the organisation had been informed there was very little chance of Rathore being allowed to compete as this would have been in conflict with their zero tolerance to doping stand. Article 44 of the Olympic Charter makes it clear that the IOC can at any time revoke the entry of an athlete without any reason.
By not informing the IOC of the presence of an athlete with a doping cloud at Athens, the ISSF commited a serious violation. By not informing the IOC of the clean chit on August 5 it again blundered. The IOC and WADA had the opportunity to challenge any such decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but hat opportunity was denied by the suppression of facts by the ISSF. Further, the hearing process never happened.
Rathore, unaware of the brewing storm, went on to win silver in the double trap on August 17 2004 as he finished behind Ahmed Almaktoum of UAE and ahead of Zheng Wang of China. Thus, the Indian contingent celebrated its first silver medal for an independent India. However on the same day, the ISSF shattered the euphoria by addressing a letter to the Indian delegation. It asked for Rathore, a federation official and a team doctor to come for a hearing the next day, August 18 2004 at 11am at the Athens shooting range to discuss the positive results at the Asian Clay Shooting Championships.
CNN-IBN has a copy of this letter as well and can now reveal another shocking fact: the letter is also addressed to the Korean and Chinese delegations implying that two other shooters too had a doping cloud over them. The ISSF admitted that in all five shooters had tested positive for the same substance in Bangkok, some of whom went on to compete at the Olympics. The ISSF has not replied to the specific query about the identities of the athletes and whether they too won Olympic medals.
The ISSF by its own admission had closed the matter relating to Rathore on August 5, saying no further investigation was needed. So why did it call for a hearing the very day after Rathore won his medal? Did they inform the IOC of these developments as by now they were dealing not just with any athlete but someone who was an Olympic medalist? The IOC's reply makes it clear they had no idea any such hearing ever occurred.
In its defense the ISSF writes: "However as this was a time when anti-doping, and the many new rules and regulations related to it, was still in its infancy, the ISSF realized that in order to better comply with the ISSF rules and the WADA code it was best to assert the violations, convene a hearing and sanction the athletes in
accordance with the rules."
But should the ISSF not have complied with the IOC's anti doping rules for Athens as well? The IOC had made it very clear 2 months earlier that during the period of the Olympic Games its own medical commission would be paramount.
The ISSF makes it clear that the athletes were let off with a warning, a fact confirmed by Dr PSM Chandran who was the contingent doctor at Athens and represented Rathore at the hearing along with the Indian shooting team manager Prof Sunny Thomas.
Here the ISSF committed another major violation to cover its tracks. Article 9 of the 2004 WADA code makes it clear that if an athlete has tested positive at a competition, his or her result in that competition will be disqualified irrespective of whether the athlete was cleared by a hearing panel. A strict enforcing of those
rules meant Rathore would lose his gold at the Asian Championships as well as the team gold. CNN-IBN can however confirm that this did not happen. Rathore was never stripped of his gold medal despite it being a salient point of the 2004 WADA code. Current NRAI President Raninder Singh says there are no official records with the federation which show the medal was withdrawn. Rathore's teammate Moraad Ali Khan concurs saying he still has his medal with him.
Responding to CNN-IBN on this matter, the ISSF writes: "Article 9 of the WADA code does in fact state that any result obtained in an event where an ADRV has occurred must be cancelled. Yet, as the ISSF's initial decision was to not assert the anti doping rule violation these results were not cancelled. Certainly, once the warnings were issued, the results should have been cancelled in accordance with the rules. The reason or administrative oversight as to why this was not done is beyond our knowledge at this point."
Were these results never expunged? By doing so the ISSF would have drawn the attention of the IOC to the fact that an Olympic medalist had failed a dope test before the games and such a fact had been kept secret from the IOC. Further, the ISSF did not apply Article 14.2 of the 2004 WADA code which says that the result of the hearing process must be made public within 20 days.
On August 18, a day after he won his medal, Rathore applied for an abbreviated Therapuetic Use Exemption (TUE) form that was signed by Dr Chandran. A TUE is an exemption form for athletes who have a proven medical condition and need medicines which contain substances which are part of the prohibited list. But in this case a TUE was not required. As mentioned earlier, a simple medical notification was enough to cover for the presence of glucorticosteroids in the body.
Also, the exemption was sought for a sun cream that was used by Rathore in the first week of August. However, the anti-doping rules for Athens made it clear that any TUE sought must be intimated by the international federation before July 30, 2004. Athletes were informed that a TUE was necessary before taking any substance on the
CNN-IBN asked the ISSF how a retrospective TUE could be applied for when it was not allowed in the rules. Was this TUE application processed and was it issued? If so, was it not in complete contravention of the anti doping rules of the IOC?
The ISSF does not answer those questions. Instead in its defense it writes: "To be clear the matter had nothing to do with a TUE that was not applied for or should have been granted. And had it been, based on the facts of the cases, this certainly would not have changed their outcome. The purpose of anti doping is to sanction cheaters who use prohibited substances with the intent to gain a competitive advantage- not those who inadvertently and unintentionally test positive."
The ISSF winds up its communication with CNN-IBN by arguing that since the matter was over eight years old and bound by the eight-year statuette of limitations, any action or inaction on their part is now irrelevant. They also made a strong plea to drop this report saying that there is nothing to be gained by bringing these unintentional doping cases to light and by bringing disrepute on their federation for a mistake that happened so long ago.
CNN-IBN does not confirm to those views. At no point in this report are we suggesting that Rathore's medal was won with the use of a performance enhancing drug. But as the Olympics are the pinnacle of sporting success and every effort is made to ensure that doping offenders are kept out away from clean athletes, the ISSF's
actions are certainly under the scanner.
The ISSF's handling of this affair, its blatant violation of the WADA code, the withholding of sensitive information from the IOC and its clumsy attempts at hiding behind an eight-year statute of limitations do raise some serious questions of propriety. The sanctity of the Olympic Games have been violated by their actions.
In his first reaction to the reports that have been doing the rounds since Wednesday morning regarding the positive tests at the Asian Clay Shooting Championships, Rathore has called this a vendetta. Rathore is currently involved in a battle with the powers that be at the NRAI, against whom Rathore is fighting a court battle with a division bench of the Delhi High Court hearing the case.
In a statement, Rathore said: "The events of today are a clear attempt to defame me to divert attention from Hon HC decision of nullifying NRAI elections. To rake up a non issue from nine years earlier is vendetta and a last ditch attempt to protect the stranglehold over the NRAI. In 2004 the highest officials of the ISSF were absolutely convinced about my credibility and had cleared me. I am amazed at the resistance of a few NRAI officials to allow free and fair elections. These things won't stop like minded athletes from trying to clean up Indian sports."