Handed a 21-month ban for failing a dope test, India's gymnastics ace Dipa Karmakar on Saturday said she accepted provisional suspension after returning positive for a banned drug to swiftly resolve her case with the international federation.
Karmakar, however, claimed that she "unknowingly ingested" the prohibited substance Higenamine -- S3 Beta-2 Agonists as per WADA prohibited list -- which was found in her dope sample.
"...I unknowingly ingested and could not determine the source of (the banned substance). I decided to take a provisional suspension with the hope of a swift resolution with the international federation," Karmakar said in a statement on Twitter, indicating that she had admitted to the doping rule violation.
Karmakar's dope sample was collected out-of-competition by the International Testing Agency (ITA), an independent organisation that manages the anti-doping programme of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), on October 11, 2021.
According to US Anti-Doping Agency, Higenamine is found in several herbs used for traditional medicine and is used in supplements without sometimes naming it. It was added to the WADA prohibited list in 2017. The drug is prohibited at all times, both in and out-of-competition.
The 29-year-old Karmakar, who shot to fame after finishing fourth in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the vault event, has been struggling with injuries ever since she underwent a surgery to treat an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in 2017.
Her last FIG event was the 2019 World Cup in Baku.
Her ban period will, however, end on July 10 this year as it was counted from the day (October 11, 2021) the sample was collected. Her results have been disqualified from October 11, 2021 onwards.
Karmakar said mentally her doping case has been the "toughest" battle she has fought in her life.
"I didn't even know how it (the banned drug) entered my body and that for any sports person...it would have broken anybody. So it is not only hurtful but also the toughest mental battle that I have ever fought," the gymnast from Tripura said.
"I had two surgeries in 2017 and 2019 and when I returned to the field... I mean, I faced one setback after another. I just want to get back strongly on the field."
According to the ITA, the case was resolved under a case resolution agreement pursuant to article 10.8.2 of the FIG Anti-Doping Rules, which is applicable when "the Athlete or other Person admits an anti-doping rule violation after being confronted with the anti-doping rule violation by FIG and agrees to Consequences acceptable to FIG and WADA, at their sole discretion."
Karmakar is happy that the matter has been resolved amicably and she is looking forward to return to gymnastics in July this year.
"Today marks the end of one of the longest battles I have fought for myself and my career. My suspension has been reduced by three months and back dated by 2.5 months. Can't wait to get back on the floor.
"It has been distressful to not know how the substances entered the body, however, more so to be in a position where my ethics have been questioned.
"Never in my career has the thought of consuming a banned substance crossed my mind. Gymnastics is all I have and I would never do anything which would bring myself or my country into disrepute."
The Switzerland based ITA is a non-profit organisation which works under the supervision of WADA and International Olympic Committee to implement anti-doping programmes for various international federations.
Karmakar's coach Bishweshwar Nandi claimed that she had sent her samples to a WADA-sanctioned laboratory in Germany for further examination but no banned substance was found.
"If she would have taken performance-enhancing drugs then she would have been banned for four years. She didn't know how it entered her body and WADA also understands it.
"We wanted to find out how it entered the body and so we wrote to WADA and then all the medicines and products were examined in Germany, but nothing was found," Nandi said.
Karmakar also quashed speculation that her suspension was for not following the whereabouts clause.
"Multiple media reports have speculated that I was under a 2-year suspension for failing to inform WADA of my whereabouts through the Anti-Doping Administration Management System (ADAMS).
"However, I would like to clarify that these are false and inaccurate and do not reveal the facts and nature of the matter."
Asked about her fitness, Karmakar said: "I had an ankle injury mid last year, so my rehab is going on. I haven't given a thought to any events but the focus is on getting back my fitness as soon as possible. I cannot wait to get back on the floor."
Nandi said his ward will return to action only if she is capable of reaching the finals of the events in which she participates.
"It takes 18-19 months to completely regain fitness and she will do difficulty vault, so she will not just participate, she will return only if she can get to finals, that's my challenge as a coach."
The Gymnastic Federation of India (GFI) officials had claimed ignorance after Karmakar was put in the "suspended" category by the FIG in February last year.
GFI president Sudhir Mittal had then said that he had not received any communication from the FIG regarding her "suspended" status.
Karmakar herself and her coach Nandi kept quiet at that time.
Other GFI officials went to the extent of saying that the "suspended" status could be due to other issues, like ethical or disciplinary, not related to doping violation.