On first look, the news story last week that said a ban has been imposed on Manju Wanniarachchi, gives the impression the boxer has gone and done it again. Wanniarachchi, as you know, won Sri Lanka’s first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal in boxing last October – a medal which he had to hand-back, and rightly so: a test of a sample of his urine taken soon after the final turned up positive.
Simultaneously with the result of the test, the boxer, as per sport’s anti-doping laws, is forbidden from participating in international and local boxing competitions until an inquiry is completed, which as of now it isn’t. The ban, in effect since October 23, hasn’t been broken, meaning the 31-year old has steered clear of the sport and is, reportedly, contemplating retirement. So, it’s more than a tad odd that the chief of the National Anti-Doping Organization, Dr. Geethanjana Mendis, should announce a ban no different to the one effected five months ago.
Of course, as head of not only the Anti-Doping set-up here but also the Sport Ministry Medical Unit, Dr. Mendis might be entitled to issue missives of the sort he did last week at anytime he thinks it is appropriate. When there’s reason to be suspicious that a ban is being defied, restating the penalty is no doubt necessary. But without even a hint of evidence that Wanniarachchi has breached the ban or has secret plans to do so, the missive of last week is inappropriate, to say the least.
Intriguingly, no sooner had the Anti-Doping Organization’s release landed on the ABA Secretary’s desk, than the media too were in receipt of the same, suggesting the originator’s intention of publicizing to the world a ban that has been in force, and not breached, since last October; in other words, a piece of old news. All of which suggest that there might be other motives for re-imposing the existing ban.
Timing the duplication of the ban to coincide with the visit of the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Mike Hooper, is strange – surely, too strange to be accidental. The purpose of the visiting English dignitary’s visit last week was to make an initial inspection of Sri Lanka’s bid to host the 2018 Games in Hambantota. And the right thing to do would be to impress upon the man (whose thoughts on our bid can be decisive) that we are keen and capable of hosting the Games seven years hence.
A vote by the 71 member countries to decide the 2018 host (between Gold Coast, in Queensland, Australia and Hambantota) is scheduled for this November, and it has to be said that Sri Lanka has put in place all that’s required at this point in time: it unveiled before CEO Hooper an impressive model of a massive Sport City which includes 20 key venues as well as the Games Village, and no doubt gave the distinguished visitor deadlines for their completion. Earlier, a powerful organizing committee was set up; co chaired by the Sport Minister and the Central Bank Governor, it also includes Minister of Foreign Employment, the National Olympic Committee chief and the H.E. the President’s eldest son – by the looks of it, a committee that can get things done at the snap of a finger.
Given the palpable enthusiasm and commitment to secure hosting rights for Hambantota, any efforts by the organizing committee to rid issues that might impede the bid are understandable. There’s too much at stake to leave to chance any slight risk. And this is what might explain the out-of-the-blue duplication of Wanniarachchi’s ban at the time the CEO of CG Federation called here last week.
Admittedly, the drug case against Wanniarachchi has harmed the good name of the country, and, bar the support of friends and relations, there can’t be much compassion out there for the boxer – one day hailed as hero and the pride of the nation, and the next, a blackguard best kept a mile away: a common or garden reaction. But you would expect from officials holding responsible jobs a more cultured and educated response. Not so here.
The intention is not to whitewash the banned boxer, but in choosing to re-impose an existing ban on him, the concerned officials have as good as kicked a fallen man, sacrilege in sport.
To illustrate the unfairness of last week’s missive, a brief history of the case is necessary. We’ll begin from the point when the boxer’s drug test turned up positive, i.e. about a fortnight after the gold medal was ‘won.’ The probe that was promptly launched established the fact that the boxer had taken the banned anabolic steroid Nandralone – but injected in the guise of vitamin B supplement by his Pannala-based doctor. The probe also uncovered the doctor was not a MBBS as claimed before but a Homeopathy medical practitioner. All of which painted the boxer as a victim of innocence.
That claim, however, wasn’t going to help Wanniarachchi and the country save the gold medal: International Anti-Doping laws say the athlete is responsible for whatever drug that’s found in his system.
The two samples of the boxer’s urine taken soon after the final both showed traces of Nandralone. At the second testing, which was conducted in the presence of Wanniarachchi, his lawyer argued that there’s no tangible proof that the boxer’s urine samples haven’t been tampered with, as the Document of Custody (recording the entire process of the test) was found to be improperly maintained and contained lapses – whereupon the Commonwealth Games Federation decided that a special meeting will be held to hear Sri Lanka’s appeal. The meeting was originally scheduled to be held last December in Jamaica, but postponed, at Sri Lanka’s request, for next May in Kuala Lumpur.
So it stands, which means that a verdict of guilty and the accompanying two-year ban have not been served on Wanniarachchi yet. The ABA has no intention of throwing in the towel at this point in time either, and rightly so. The ABA, after all, is exercising its right to appeal, a right that’s written down as law in the Anti-Doping books. And in doing so is defending its good name, as well as the future of the sport here.
Given the sordid stories of corruption and mismanagement emerging from the last Games, in New Delhi, it wouldn’t be wrong to say the conduct of the event wasn’t exactly flawless – which raises the question if the proper standards of drug testing had been followed in New Delhi. The ABA lawyer thinks not, which is why it wants to pursue Wanniarachchi’s case to the end.
But some other officials think the ABA’s stand might frustrate the Hambantota bid – which is silly, really. If Sri Lanka’s solitary failed drug test might deprive Hambantota the 2018 Games, then, Gold Coast surely ought to be disqualified from even bidding: nine Australians tested positive at the last Games.
Any efforts to rid sport of drugs are to be applauded. But disgracing Wanniarachchi a second time can hardly be described as a step in that direction. It hurts the sport more than the boxer.