Sanjita Chanu has won a prestigious sports award that was put on hold for her in 2018 ©Getty Images

Sanjita Chanu, the Indian weightlifter who was cleared of doping two and a half years after testing positive, has won a prestigious sports award that was put on hold for her in 2018.

Sanjita has also written to the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to complain that she is "not getting complete justice" and stating her intent to take legal action against the sport’s governing body, which has apologised to her.

United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief executive has strongly criticised the IWF, and an American laboratory has offered no explanation of its role in the bungled case.

The "undue and unnecessary delay" in the case had caused Sanjita to lose her chance of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, cost her around $35,000 (£28,000/€31,000) in legal costs and other expenses, and caused her "mental trauma", she said.

She won the Arjuna Award - made by the Indian Sports Ministry for outstanding achievement and carrying a financial reward of about $6,500 (£5,300/€5,800) - only after taking legal action nearly two years ago with the help of her brother, Bijen.

The Indian High Court ordered the Sports Ministry to consider Sanjita for the award and keep its 2018 decision in a sealed envelope, pending a decision on the contentious doping violation.

Sanjita has expressed her innocence throughout proceedings.

It has now been confirmed that Sanjita will get her Arjuna Award, a rare piece of good news for her after the "humongous" delay in her case, followed by disruption to her training caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sanjita, 26, intends to return to full training and competition, targeting the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in 2022 as her long-term priorities.

She won Commonwealth Games gold in 2014 and, despite having tested positive five months earlier, in Gold Coast, Australia in 2018.

The Indian weightlifter won gold at the Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
The Indian weightlifter won gold at the Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

The delay in notifying Sanjita that she had tested positive was one of many unexplained procedural irregularities in her case.

Sanjita was tested out-of-competition at a Las Vegas training camp in November, 2017 before the IWF World Championships in Anaheim, California.

Her sample was taken by USADA and tested at the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah.

After Sanjita requested a test on her 'B' sample at the same laboratory, there was a further delay of more than three months before she received the result.

At an IWF hearing in Budapest in October, 2018 - to which Sanjita sent representatives at her own expense - members of the panel were "asked to make a decision without all the evidence of what had happened", according to a source involved.

The IWF revoked Sanjita’s provisional suspension in January 2019, after it had lasted nine months, and finally withdrew any charges against her this month, 933 days after her sample was taken.

The IWF acted after receiving notification from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on May 28 of a problem relating to the Salt Lake City laboratory’s isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) testing - the method used to detect steroids in urine samples.

WADA wrote to the IWF that "due to certain non-conformities at the time of the analysis of the sample with the IRMS analytical method of the laboratory (which have since been corrected to the satisfaction of the WADA Laboratory Expert Group) WADA recommends - out of fairness to the athlete - that the case against the athlete based on the sample be closed".

Asked for a further explanation, WADA said it was unable to comment.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart has criticised the IWF for its handling of the case ©Getty Images
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart has criticised the IWF for its handling of the case ©Getty Images

In a statement on May 26, two days before it wrote to the IWF, WADA announced that it had reinstated the Salt Lake City laboratory’s status after partially suspending its accreditation in October 2019 "limited to the laboratory’s IRMS analytical method, due to non-conformities with the relevant technical document".

The laboratory challenged the partial suspension before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last September "and requested an order that it be kept confidential pending resolution of the CAS appeal".

After the appeal was withdrawn, WADA made its statement about the partial suspension of the laboratory.

insidethegames sent emails to the laboratory director in March, May and again this week, asking what role it had played in the two-and-a-half year delay in Sanjita’s case, but there has been no reply to those emails or a phone message.

The sports lawyer Bill Bock, general counsel of USADA, also acts for the laboratory.

Asked if he could explain the "non-conformities" at Salt Lake City, the USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said: "The laboratory documents we received in this case proved the adverse analytical finding.

"Our science team and others here vet every adverse analytical finding that is reported before we move it in the process, which was done in this case.

"Only WADA can answer your question with what they mean (by 'non-conformities')."

WADA said it was unable to comment.

Ursula Papandrea, Interim President of the IWF since April, said: "I cannot give an explanation but from what I have recently learned, it is certainly a travesty.

"I am unsure whether IWF bears any blame but from my heart, I am very sorry to hear of any athlete going through such a situation.

"I agree she (Sanjita) deserves a full explanation; the chances lost cannot be replaced.

"For that, and even though I was not the leader of the IWF during these events, I offer my apology.

"I was notified recently and have done what was possible to push for a conclusion.

"I am grateful to our counsel for making sure it came to an end."

Interim IWF President Ursula Papandrea said Sanjita Chanu had been on the wrong end of a
Interim IWF President Ursula Papandrea said Sanjita Chanu had been on the wrong end of a "travesty" ©Getty Images

Sahdev Yadav, general secretary of the Indian Weightlifting Federation, said the handling of the case had been "pathetic" and it was "heartbreaking that Sanjita Chanu was denied justice for 16 months" after the revocation of her provisional suspension in January 2019.

"The decision of absolving the athlete finally came through on 9 June 2020 but till that time the athlete has been deprived of sporting opportunities and (suffered) mental torment, anguish and agony," Yadav said.

USADA’s Tygart said: "I don’t have all the answers here but it certainly didn’t work as it should.

"The athlete deserves answers, as do all of us who are fighting for clean sport.

"It reminds me of the old saying justice delayed is justice denied.

"If we made mistakes we’ll own up to mistakes, but this is the IWF once again being the Keystone Cops, at best," he added, in reference to the ineffective, bungling law enforcers who featured in a silent film series more than 100 years ago.

"Why it took from January 9 to May 15 (2018) before they provisionally suspended the athlete, I cannot understand it.”

Tygart said that he had read the McLaren report on corruption in weightlifting, published on June 4, which detailed instances of delayed and "buried" doping positives.

He said there was "example after example of that (IWF anti-doping) department, mostly under the control of Tamás Aján, intentionally delaying, mostly for favours.

"I don’t have any facts to suggest that was done in this case, but it leaves you to wonder; ‘What in the world could have taken so long?’

"There’s a whole load of unanswered questions.”

While Tygart said the IWF and WADA "should provide answers to those questions", he made no mention of the Salt Lake City laboratory.