Doping scandal rocks Pakistan’s weightlifting; six weightlifters charged for violations

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Talha Talib of Pakistan competes in the men's 67kg weightlifting event, at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

By our correspondent

LAHORE: As many as six Pakistani weightlifters have been charged for doping violation and have been ‘provisionally suspended’. This has also put Pakistan Weightlifting Federation (PWLF) on the brink of suspension.

The International Testing Agency (ITA), which has conducted the tests, reports that it has asserted anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) against two Pakistani weightlifters for the presence of prohibited substances and against four additional Pakistani weightlifters for refusing or failing to submit to sample collection.

The ITA reports that it has asserted apparent ADRVs against Talha Talib and Abu Bakar Ghani under Article 2.1 of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Anti-Doping Rules (presence of prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers).

The ITA said that more particularly a sample collected from Talha Talib, out of competitions on November 29, 2021, and thereafter, another sample collected on December 10, 2021, during the 2021 IWF World Championship in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, have both returned Adverse Analytical Findings (AAFs) for the prohibited steroids 19-norandrosterone.

It further said additionally a sample collected from Abu Bakar Ghani on December 9, 2021, during the 2021 World Championship has returned an AAF for the prohibited hormone and metabolic modulator tamoxifen metabolite.

Pursuant to the IWF’s delegation of its anti-doping programme to the ITA, the ITA was in charge of conducting a robust, intelligence-led and targeted in-competition sample collection during the 2021 World Championships.

The ITA said that a joint ITA and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation, initiated on the basis of ITA intelligence, also resulted in the ITA asserting apparent ADRVs against the following four Pakistani weightlifters under Article 2.3 of the IWF Anti-Doping Rules (evading, refusing or failing to submit to sample collection) for refusing to submit to sample collection during an attempted out-of-competition test conducted by the ITA in Pakistan on November 10, 2021. These weightlifters, charged under Article 2.3 of the IWF Anti-Doping Rules are: Muhammad Sharjeel Butt, Ghulam Mustafa, Abdur Rehman and Farhan Amjad.

“All six athletes have been informed of the cases and have been provisionally suspended until the resolution of the matters.  During the period of provisional suspension the athletes cannot inter alia participate in any capacity in any competition or any other activity either at the international or national level organized by any signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code,” ITA said.

“The prosecution of the cases is also being handled entirely by the ITA. Given that the cases are underway, there will be no further comments during the ongoing proceedings,” the ITA said in its statement.

WADA-accredited laboratory reported the results of the sample collected on November 29, 2021, on December 23, 2021, that is after the 2021 World Championship.

If charges are proved, besides the weightlifters the PWLF may also face upto four-year ban and a hefty fine.

According to IWF rules if three or more weightlifters fail dope tests in a year then the federation may be banned. Among the athletes under scanner Talha Talib is a huge seed, having finished fifth in the last year’s Tokyo Olympics and has also won snatch bronze in the last year’s World Championship in Tashkent. Besides Talha, Abu Bakar Ghani and Sharjeel Butt are also in the Commonwealth Games squad. Ghulam Mustafa, who is yet to make his international debut, Asian youth gold medallist Abdur Rehman and Farhan Amjad are sons of a senior official of the PWLF.

An expert, well connected with such cases, told this correspondent that the four weightlifters, who have been charged under Article 2.3 of the IWF Doping Rules, may also face similar punishment as may be awarded to Talha and Abu Bakar against whom substantial evidence has been found. This correspondent has learnt when the ITA representative came to take samples of the four weightlifters, who have been charged for refusing to give samples, a senior PWLF official contacted ADOP representative and he told the federation’s official to ask the ITA representative to show his ‘mission order’. Sources in the PWFL said that the ITA representative did not show identity card to weightlifters and so they refused to cooperate. The source said that they could not give samples to an unknown person.

A senior official of the country’s sports governing body told The News that the ITA should have sent its representative for conducting such tests after informing the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and ADOP. Sources said that all four weightlifters have explained their stance, why they refused to give samples for dope test, during their correspondence with the ITA.

Sources in PWLF claimed that in April 2022, ITA conducted further tests of 15 more weightlifters and all returned negative. Responding to a question if federation also faces ban then Pakistan’s clean weightlifters will be able to feature in international events, a POA official told this correspondent that this is a ‘unique situation’ and the NOC will try its level best to ensure clean athletes get opportunities to feature in international events.