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Amid controversial circumstances, Sanjita Chanu's doping suspension lifted

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Late on Tuesday night, Sanjita Chanu received an email she had long been waiting for. It had been sent by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). Addressing the 25-year-old, the letter signed by IWF legal counsel Eva Nyirfa read, "On the basis of the information at its disposal, the IWF has decided that the provisional suspension of the athlete shall be lifted as of today (January 22, 2019)."

The letter seemed to vindicate the two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Chanu's claims of innocence after she had been suspended by the IWF in May last year for having failed a dope test conducted by the USADA (United States Anti-doping agency) at the 2017 World Championships in Las Vegas.

"There were a lot of problems with the way IWF handled this case," says Chanu's younger brother Bijen Singh. The earliest had been in the official announcement of her doping violation on the IWF website. While sending the dope result notification, the IWF had mentioned Chanu's sample code as 1599000 as the one collected from Las Vegas in 2017, while mentioning sample code 1599176 in the results section.

IWF subsequently admitted an administrative error but insisted Chanu - who won a gold medal in the 48kg category at the Glasgow Games and another in the 53kg category at Gold Coast -- had indeed returned an adverse result for testosterone. As a first-time offender, Chanu stood to face a four-year ban from the sport. Chanu immediately got her B sample tested which also tested positive. But there were concerns with this result, too. "In the B analysis report there were two different lab IDs of her sample and two different machine (equipment) IDs," says Bijen.

"It's surprising that the International federation hasn't given us the reason for lifting the suspension" Sahdev Yadav, general secretary of the Weightlifting Federation of India.

Ultimately on October 18, Bijen travelled to Budapest for an IWF hearing on the matter. "The IWF said that they had informed the athlete and the federation of her failed test in January of 2018. But the federation denied receiving any report and we were able to show that the doping control officer had noted down an incorrect email address for Sanjita. We could also prove that we had received no receipt of the dope control form. Then we pointed out all the discrepancies in IWF's own analysis report," says Bijey.

"Following the hearing, the IWF was by its own norms expected to give its final decision in 45 days' time, but they kept on delaying. Finally, on 17th January, I wrote to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) to intervene in the matter. Following that, we have got the suspension lifted," he says. While the IWF has decided to remove the provisional suspension, it has yet to explain the reasoning behind the decision. In their letter to Chanu, the IWF writes, "The IWF hearing panel will render its decision in the athlete's case in due course."

"It's surprising that the international federation hasn't given us the reason for lifting the suspension but it seems there was merit in the case. This is the first time I am seeing a provisional suspension on an athlete being lifted. It's a very good decision for her. It means she can start training with the national camp and begin competing again," says Sahdev Yadav, general secretary of the Weightlifting Federation of India.

It's a bittersweet moment for Chanu. She was training with the national camp for the Asian Games when she first learned that she was being suspended and had left for her home in Imphal soon after. "Ever since I left the camp in May, I haven't even stepped in a training hall. I used to cry a lot and look at the sports pages in the newspaper and wish I was also there," she says.

Having missed out on so much of training, it is unlikely that Chanu will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. "It is a big relief that the suspension has been lifted but at the same time, I feel sad that my career has been affected so much. I haven't gone even once to train after I first got news of my suspension. Maybe I will go from tomorrow," she says.