NEW DELHI (AP) — India's sports ministry fired four officials and a star athlete lost a sponsor as the fallout continued from a string of positive doping cases in the country over the past week.
"Two Sports Authority of India officials attached with the athletes training program and two other women officials of the Elite Sports Women’s Hostel have been removed," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
The government on Tuesday dismissed Ukrainian coach Yuri Ogorodnik, who was in charge of six of the eight athletes who tested positive for anabolic steroids.
Among the disgraced athletes are Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose, who were all part of the women’s 1,600-meter relay squads that won gold at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asian Games last October and November. Akkunji had also won the 400 hurdles at Guangzhou.
Jauna Murmu, Tiana Mary and Priyanka Panwar were other 400 runners caught for doping, while men’s long jumper Hari Krishnan and women’s shot putter Sonia Kumari also figured in the list.
They all tested positive for drugs that help build muscle.
Akkunji, Jose, Kumari, Panwar and Krishnan tested positive for methandienone, Murmu and Mary for epimethandiol, and Kaur for the more common stanozolol.
All of them have been provisionally banned.
The Punjab state government also swung into action by conducting raids on medical outlets selling banned drugs near the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, where most national camps are held.
"Criminal cases will be registered against all chemists who are selling these drugs without the prescription of doctors and their licenses will be canceled if they are found guilty," the state’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal told reporters.
Akkunji, who had been dubbed India’s "golden girl" after her performances last year, said she was innocent.
"The ‘B’ sample tests and our hearing will prove that we are innocent," she told the Times Now news channel. "We will compete and bring glory in next year’s London Olympics."
But Akkunji has lost the support of her main sponsor, Olympic Gold Quest, a body formed to support top athletes.
"As per the contract, we have a strict anti-coping code, so we have no choice but to provisionally suspend Ashwini’s funding," said its chief executive Viren Resquinha, a former India field hockey captain.
Meanwhile, women’s badminton star Saina Nehwal said she always knew athletes took banned steroids and some of them had even told her about it.
"I know many athletes and weightlifters who themselves tell me that ‘we take it," Nehwal told reporters in Mumbai. "It’s sad that so many of the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medal winners tested positive, but I’m not totally surprised."
The sixth-ranked Nehwal, who won the women’s singles gold on the last day of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi last year to help India finish second in the medals tally, said coaches deserved more blame than the athletes.
"Many athletes and weightlifters are not very educated, and many come from a rural background, so they take whatever their coaches give them," she said.