Narsingh Yadav. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Aug. 1: Wrestler Narsingh Yadav was today cleared of doping charges by the disciplinary panel of the National Anti-Doping Agency, which said the wrestler had been "a victim of sabotage".
But Narsingh still faces two possible hurdles before he can take part in the Rio Olympics, which begin on August 5.
One, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) can move the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) to seek an injunction on Narsingh's Rio participation.
Sources said this was highly likely amid the hardened stand Olympic authorities have taken following the Russian doping scandal.
Two, after the Narsingh controversy broke about 10 days ago, the Wrestling Federation of India had got the world body, United World Wrestling, to accept a replacement for Narsingh in his event, 74kg freestyle.
The federation today declared that the replacement, Parveen Rana, would be called back from Georgia where he is attending a preparatory camp. But till late tonight, the world body hadn't confirmed whether it would agree to the latest switch and accept Narsingh back.
Never before has the National Anti-Doping Agency's (Nada) disciplinary panel cleared an athlete after both his A and B samples tested positive (for the banned anabolic steroid methandienone in Narsingh's case). In all previous cases, even first offenders had been sent packing for two to four years.
Narsingh had claimed his food and water had been spiked at the Sports Authority of India hostel in Sonepat.
He seems to have been given the benefit of the doubt, the exoneration owing more to reasoning than evidence.
"We kept in mind that in the past, till June 2, none of his samples were positive," Nada director-general Naveen Agarwal said. "It was inconceivable that one-time ingestion would be of benefit. Therefore the panel is of the view that the one-time ingestion was not intentional."
Agarwal added: "The panel concluded that the athlete deserves the benefit of Article 10.4 (dealing with conspiracy) of Nada's anti-doping code. Keeping in view that he was a victim of sabotage, the panel exonerated the athlete."
Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP parliamentarian from Uttar Pradesh, tried to give a political twist to Narsingh's dramatic exoneration, claiming that justice had prevailed only after the "Prime Minister intervened".
He declined to elaborate, knowing well that the disciplinary panel is an independent body.
After the clean chit was announced, Narsingh drove to Brij Bhushan's Ashoka Road bungalow. As the duo settled down in a sofa to give TV interviews, a staff member rushed to hang a photo of Narendra Modi on the wall behind.
Narsingh was quick to sense the mood and thanked the Prime Minister. "I knew my honesty would be proved. Now, I will prove myself by winning a medal in Rio. I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for all his support," he said.
His lawyer Vidushpat Singhania said he was confident the verdict would stand up in the CAS if Wada appealed the panel's decision.
"We were able to prove there were enough circumstances to believe Narsingh was a victim of sabotage and that there were efforts to stop him," he said.
He cited a high court plea by rival and double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar seeking a play-off against Narsingh for an Olympic berth, which the court rejected, and a Haryana police report about a threat to Narsingh at the Sonepat hostel.