The curious case of Nirmala Sheoran

Nirmala Sheoran

Quartermiler Nirmala Sheoran, ‘untraceable’, at least for the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for the past several months, has been included in the preliminary list sent for the Asian Games accreditation.

In fact, the 22-year-old Asian champion's name figures in the group whose accreditation application was rejected by the Organising Committee of the Jakarta Asian Games as photographs that did not meet the specifications prescribed.

The AFI said on Monday that though Nirmala remained incommunicado, they had sent her accreditation application to avoid last-minute hassles, in case she returns to the competitive fold and achieves the qualification standard. The AFI has designated the Inter-State National Athletics Championships, beginning June 26 in Guwahati, as the mandatory qualification event.

A majority of the Indian 400m runners, both men and women, are training in Spala, Poland, in preparation for the Asiad. A batch of middle and long-distance runners are in Bhutan and another group of javelin throwers in Finland.

“We still do not know her whereabouts. We have tried everything to reach her, even issued her letters, but to no avail,” AFI secretary CK Valson told DH.

“We have sent her name to avoid the situation that happened during the Commonwealth Games recently. We have sent the names of all the athletes, whether in form or not. Anyway, the final names will be finalised later depending on the Inter-State performance and others.”

The AFI was also of the view if Nirmala turns up for the Inter-State meet and clocks the requisite timing, she would be considered for selection. “She, though, will have to prove her performance in a couple of more meets,” Valson said.

In 2016 and 2017, Nirmala made appearances in the selection trials and attained the standards, first for Rio Olympics and then for the World Championships in London. She clocked 51.48 seconds in the Inter-State meet at Hyderabad in the Olympic year, and 51.28 in the Fed Cup at Patiala last year, in the 400m. She was eliminated in the opening round in Rio and made the semifinals in London. She could not repeat her home timings.

It is a moot point whether the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has tested Nirmala during this period after she was named in its Registered Testing Pool (RTP) last November. Being in the RTP, Nirmala is required to provide her “whereabouts” to NADA on a quarterly basis and make herself available for testing at a pre-designated venue at least for one hour every day.

Initially, NADA had asked the AFI whether the latter was aware of Nirmala’s “whereabouts”. But once she was included in the RTP, it was left to NADA to pursue her. In case she failed to file her whereabouts information, it was up to NADA to mark a “failure”. In case she avoided a test at a designated place it was again up to NADA to mark a “missed test”. A combination of three “filing failures” and/or missed tests during a 12-month period would constitute an offence that may attract a two-year suspension.

A confirmation about her “whereabouts” could not be ascertained from NADA. It is, however, expected NADA would make efforts to trace her or mark her “whereabouts failures” now that she has been included in the preliminary list for the Asian Games in August.

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