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Amid Paris Olympics Preparations, NADA Suspends Bajrang Punia – What’s Next?

Let's understand the implications of NADA's suspension on wrestler Bajrang Punia's Paris Olympics qualification.

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On Sunday, 5 May news broke out that Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist wrestler Bajrang Punia has been provisionally suspended by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA). This action follows his alleged failure to provide a urine sample during the trials conducted at the Sports Authority of India centre in Sonipat on 10 March. 

Following reports of his suspension, the 30-year-old wrestler promptly addressed the situation on social media platform ‘X’ to challenge the claim.

Now, let’s delve into the details of the matter and understand the implications on Punia's qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics:

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Why Did NADA Suspend Bajrang Punia?

According to reports, following his defeat in the trials to select the Indian squad for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Sonepat, Punia departed the venue without providing his urine sample and did not return for the subsequent third-fourth place playoff.

NADA officials had approached several wrestlers, including Bajrang, during the selection trials on 10 March, conducted by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA)-appointed ad-hoc committee, to collect their samples. However, Bajrang's sample was not obtained.

Subsequently, after 44 days, on 23 April, NADA issued a letter to Bajrang, indicating his provisional suspension due to his alleged refusal to undergo dope testing by not providing his urine sample.

"With subject to paragraph 4:1:2 below and in accordance with article 7.4 of the NADR 2021, Bajrang Punia has been immediately provisionally suspended from participation in any competition or activity prior to the final decision reached at a hearing in this matter," read an official release from NADA dated 23 April.

Notably, Punia crashed out after losing to Rohit 9-1 in the semi-finals of the 65kg category in the Sonepat trials.

What Does This Suspension Mean for Bajrang?

As a consequence of this suspension, Bajrang will be barred from participating in any tournaments or trials until the suspension is revoked.

Currently, India has not secured an Olympic quota place in the men’s freestyle 65 kg weight category for the Paris Olympics. If Sujeet Kalkal succeeds in securing one in the upcoming final qualifier scheduled from 9 May in Istanbul, Bajrang's suspension could potentially hinder his opportunity for another attempt at the Summer Games. 

A Wrestling Federation of India official has confirmed that the victor of the Olympic quota will need to defeat the winner of another national trial to secure a spot in Paris.

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How Did Bajrang React?

After news emerged of his provisional suspension, Punia took to ‘X’ to contest the allegations. He clarified that he did not refuse to provide his sample in March but instead requested NADA officials to clarify why they employed a collection kit that had expired. In a previous video, the 30-year-old athlete had raised concerns, alleging that NADA had attempted to collect his sample in December using a kit that had already expired.
I want to clarify about the report regarding my dope test. I never refused to give my sample, I requested them to get a reply about the expiry kit which I had raised with them. I wanted to know what action was taken? I told them please give me a reply and take my sample. My lawyer Vidhusphat Singhania will reply to this notice soon.
Bajrang Punia
"We are studying the matter and we will reply before the 7 May deadline,” Bajrang Punia’s lawyer Vidushpat Singhania said on Sunday, 5 May.
The first step will be to contest the suspension, which we will do before the appeals panel. We will make it clear that Bajrang has never opposed to comply with anti-doping rules. His only contention was that he wanted a response on the video he had shared on expired kits. We will appeal against this suspension and if we're not satisfied, we may look to move court later.
Vidushpat Singhania, Bajrang Punia’s lawyer
Let's understand the implications of NADA's suspension on wrestler Bajrang Punia's Paris Olympics qualification.

Bajrang Punia had claimed officials in NADA were trying to trap wrestlers by using outdated equipment for tests.

(Photo: The Quint)

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What Did The WFI Say?

According to a senior official from the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), the letter from NADA was not directed to the national body but was instead sent to the now defunct ad hoc committee responsible for overseeing the selection trials in March.

“It was a strange decision to send the letter to the ad-hoc body which is no longer in control of wrestling. It’s a clear way to bypass us despite UWW (Wrestling’s World Body) repeatedly establishing WFI as the only body in charge of wrestling. We were not even given a copy of the letter,” the WFI official said.
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What Happens Next?

According to the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) Code, ‘Refusing, or failing without compelling justification, to submit to sample collection after notification as authorised in applicable anti-doping rules or otherwise evading sample collection is an anti-doping rule violation.’

NADA has given Punia the opportunity to request a Provisional Hearing promptly after the imposition of his suspension. Additionally, the wrestler has been granted the chance to provide an explanation before 7 May.

"You have the opportunity to request (a) Provisional Hearing, on a timely basis after the imposition of the Provisional Suspension; or (b) an expedited hearing in accordance with Article 8 of the NADR 2021 on a timely basis after the imposition of the provisional provision.

"Decisions in relation to Provisional Suspension may be appealed in accordance with article 13.2 or the NADR 2021. In addition to the rights mentioned above, you have the opportunity to provide an explanation to NADA India by 07/5/2024," the statement read.

If Punia fails to overturn the NADA suspension, it is possible that his case will proceed to a disciplinary panel after the 7 May submissions. This process could potentially extend over several weeks, leaving Punia's wrestling career in a state of uncertainty.

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