In what could be one of the biggest doping scandals in recent years, as many as 21 weightlifters have been provisionally suspended by the Indian Weightlifting Federation after testing positive for banned substances.
The lifters tested positive across different championships -- both out-of-competition and in-competition. But the maximum numbers of offenders were caught at the National Youth and Junior Weightlifting Championships, which was held in Yamunanagar in January.
"Yes, 21 lifters have tested positive and have been provisionally suspended, pending the result of their 'B' sample tests. Their 'B' sample tests are awaited," Indian Weightlifting Federation secretary general Sahdev Yadav said.
"This can be called one of the biggest catches in recent times but one has to take into consideration that it includes competitions at Universities, Police Games, Railways, etc also," he added.
In case their 'B' sample tests also come out positive, first-time offenders will face the prospect of being banned for four years.
The National Anti-Doping Agency has increased the ban period of first time dope offenders to a maximum of four years from two, effective from January 1, 2015.
The IWF has also thought of imposing a year-long ban on the states of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana for returning highest number of dope cases off late. The lifters from these states would not be able to take part in any competition till the end of ban.
According to the IWF rules, in case of two or more doping violations in a 12-month period in tests conducted by the IWF or NADA, a state federation could be suspended from participating in any activities of the IWF for a period of up to two years.
Yadav said even the coaches of the banned lifters would face suspension and could also be fined.
"The athletes were caught for using different banned substances. Strict action would be taken against coaches as well," Yadav clarified.
During the National Youth and Junior Weightlifting Championships, eight lifters had tested positive.
Punjab's Simranpreet Kaur, who won a gold medal in 63kg in both the Youth and Junior categories, tested positive, besides Amritpal Singh (85kg, gold) and Arshdeep Kaur (58kg, silver) in the same tournament.
In fact, three out of four weightlifters, who had failed dope tests at the 35th National Games held in Kerala in January-February, were from the northern states. 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medalist weightlifter Geeta Rani (Punjab), along with Harjeet Kaur (Haryana) and Mangte P Kom (Chandigarh), besides Komal Wakale from Maharashtra, who all tested positive.
Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images