In a massive jolt to India's Olympic preparations, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has extended the suspension of the country's National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) by another six months citing non-conformation to international standards.
The WADA first suspended NDTL in August last year for a period of six months. A fresh round of inspection by the world body, much to the embarrassment of country's sporting establishment, showed that non-conformities still existed.
"The World Anti-Doping Agency has suspended the accreditation of the National Dope Testing Laboratory in New Delhi, India, for a second period of up to six months," WADA said in a statement.
The suspension prohibits the NDTL from carrying out any anti-doping activities, including all analyses of urine and blood samples.
The laboratory's non-conformities pertain to the International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) identified during a WADA site visit, including the laboratory's isotope ratio mass spectrometry -- the analytical technique of choice for confirmation of prohibited substances.
Currently, urine samples collected by National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) are being sent primarily to the WADA-accredited lab in Doha.
The WADA conducted a second inspection of NDTL in February. But corrective measures weren't found to be good enough to revoke the suspension, which is now extended till January, 2021.
"In February 2020, when the six-month suspension period elapsed and some outstanding non-conformities had not been addressed successfully, WADA's Laboratory Expert Group (LabEG) recommended the initiation of further disciplinary proceedings against the laboratory based on the outstanding non-conformities," the world body said.
The disciplinary committee that was mandated to make a recommendation to the WADA chair then gave its status report asking for an extension in suspension.
"These disciplinary proceedings were carried out by an independent Disciplinary Committee...The disciplinary process is now complete and the second six-month suspension began on 17 July 2020."
As per Article 13.7 of the WADA Code, the NDTL can appeal against this decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 21 days of receipt of notice.
The release also stated: "During the period of suspension, if the laboratory satisfies the LabEG in meeting the requirements, it may apply for reinstatement prior to the expiry of the six-month suspension period."
However, the manner in which the suspension had been handled, there is a provision for another six-month suspension which could mean that NDTL won't be able to do any testing before Tokyo Olympics in July, 2021.
"Should the laboratory not address the non-conformities by the end of the six-month suspension period, WADA may extend the suspension of the laboratory's accreditation for up to an additional six months."
NADA DG Navin Agarwal, in a recent interview to PTI, had said that the body has "stopped collecting blood samples during COVID-19 forced lockdown as transportation becomes difficult."
NDTL's suspension has already forced NADA to send samples to foreign laboratories, which involves a higher cost.
"It is a huge setback for the sports ministry and NDTL. Somebody must take responsibility for this. For last 11 months, NADA is operating without an accredited lab and now this has been extended to another six months," lawyer Parth Goswami, who handles doping related cases, said.
"Sending of samples for analysis to Qatar lab involves cost and also delays the result management process. NDTL/sports ministry did not challenge the suspension of WADA before CAS last August. It will be interesting to see if NDTL protests this time," he said.