Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham believes she has suffered "a huge injustice" ©Getty Images

An Indian weightlifter who suffered "mental trauma" and, she says, lost her chance to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games because of an unexplained mix-up over a doping positive is seeking compensation from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham says she has never officially been cleared of wrongdoing, and that "humungous delays" and uncertainties in the case caused her to suffer "a huge injustice".

Even now, more than two and a half years since her sample was taken by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) at a training camp in Las Vegas shortly before the 2017 IWF World Championships in Anaheim in California, the case is not closed.

Sanjita was suspended for nine months and says her ban effectively ended her hopes of qualifying for Tokyo 2020, ruined her chance of winning a national sports award, spoiled her image and cost her an estimated $35,000 (£28,000/€31,300) in lost income and legal fees.

Her sample came up positive for steroids when tested by a laboratory in Salt Lake City which, it emerged last week, had its accreditation partially suspended for a month by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) last year.

"There have been mistakes at every possible level," said Sanjita’s brother and manager, Bijen Kumar Khumukcham, who said there should be "a top-level inquiry".

Sanjita, 26, wrote to the IWF on May 13 to complain of its "total failure in giving an unbiased, truthful and timely result" and point out that she has lived with uncertainty and mental stress for more than two years.

She has sent a copy of her letter to insidethegames, along with a package of documents relating to her case, totalling 179 pages.

Sanjita is demanding an explanation for the alleged mishandling of her case by any or all of the IWF, WADA and the laboratory in Salt Lake City.

Among the many anomalies in the procedures, Sanjita was allowed to compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games five months after the positive test - and won a gold medal.

She had not been informed of the doping violation at the time.

Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham is a two-time Commonwealth Games champion ©Getty Images
Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham is a two-time Commonwealth Games champion ©Getty Images

The Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) also said it had no knowledge of the doping violation at the time, though USADA sent an email to the IWLF in January 2018.

The evidence package includes copies of emails sent by USADA to the Indian federation and to Sanjita; the email address for Sanjita is wrong.

Sanjita was provisionally suspended by the IWF within weeks of winning her gold medal - six months after her positive test, and four months after the email to her from USADA was sent to the wrong address.

She missed the start of Olympic qualifying in the latter months of 2018, and when the suspension was lifted in January 2019 based on "expert opinion of the analytical aspects of the case" she struggled to recover her lost form.

Sanjita has not competed internationally since her 53-kilogram victory in Gold Coast, more than two years ago. 

She also won Commonwealth gold, at 48kg, at Glasgow 2014.

"Sanjita’s Olympic dream was ruined because of this," said Bijen.

"We will demand compensation for mental trauma, and we will demand action be taken against those parties and individuals who are involved in the mishandling of the case."

Bijen is concerned about the role played by the IWF, WADA and the laboratory, and also believes the coaching and administrative staff of the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) did not do enough to keep Sanjita informed of developments.

"Sanjita was away from professional training for eight months and was demoralised by the inordinate delay. 

"We are complaining to WADA, we will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"The IWF must explain everything."

During Sanjita’s ordeal she has been threatened with dismissal and financial penalties if she continued her claims of malpractice by officials; her signature was forged, apparently by somebody from the IWLF, and she had her private email account illegally used by others; she had crucial information kept from her; she was listed as having two different coaches instead of one; her positive sample was given two different numbers; the single piece of testing equipment in the Salt Lake City lab had two different ID numbers; and her B sample was tested nearly three months after the date on which she had been told it would be tested.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it was not possible to comment while the case was ongoing ©Getty Images
The World Anti-Doping Agency said it was not possible to comment while the case was ongoing ©Getty Images

Besides those and other complaints, Sanjita was tested 11 times in 11 months in India, Australia and the US before being suspended in May 2018 - and that one positive from those tests came as she prepared in Las Vegas for the IWF World Championships in Anaheim, where she produced her worst international performance and went into the competition believing she had "no chance whatsoever" of winning a medal.

Sanjita had been injured and was in the World Championships team on her road to recovery, with the 2018 Commonwealth Games the primary target.

She competed in the B Group in Anaheim and made a total of 177kg, which was 18kg below her previous international total of 195kg at the 2017 Commonwealth Championships in Gold Coast, where she was tested and clean.

Bijen asked: "How could such an experienced international athlete risk her whole career in a competition where she competed in the B Group and her chance of winning a medal is absolute zero?"

Sanjita protested that the process of taking and testing her sample was flawed, and continues to vehemently plead her innocence.

A long list of complaints about the case has been sent to the IWF and WADA.

After the IWF received Sanjita’s latest letter, an IWF spokesperson said it was not possible to give further information as it was "out of our control, awaiting WADA’s confirmation of analytical issues of the case".

A WADA spokesperson said it was not possible to comment while the case was ongoing.

The lab in Salt Lake City did not respond to emails sent by insidethegames.

Bijen laid out the details of Sanjita’s version of events in the documents - including transcripts of phone calls - which were sent to insidethegames.

The final document, a summary of evidence, runs to 95 pages.

Sanjita’s sample was taken out-of-competition when the Indians were training at a gym in Las Vegas for two weeks leading up to the IWF World Championships in Anaheim.

The problems began at the outset when a form was incorrectly filled out by the Doping Control Officer, said Sanjita.

When her A sample came up positive for steroids at the Salt Lake City laboratory, USADA emailed Sanjita on January 9 - to a wrong address, so she was unaware she had tested positive.

Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham receives a gold medal at gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images
Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham receives a gold medal at gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images

The documents show that USADA also sent notification to the IWLF, WADA and the IWF, which took over results management.

"If USADA reported to WADA and IWF in January, why was Sanjita still in the Commonwealth rankings in March, why was she allowed to win a gold medal in Australia in April, why was she not informed until May?" Bijen said.

"Will the IWF hold to account whoever is responsible for this error?"

Sanjita’s case was not the only one to involve administrative errors.

Marcos Ruiz, who finished eighth in the men's 105kg class in Anaheim, had also been tested out of competition, with the sample taken by USADA and analysed by the Salt Lake City lab.

Ruiz's A sample was positive, but again he was not notified by the IWF until May, when he was provisionally suspended.

During the five months between testing positive and notification, his B sample had been destroyed, and Ruiz was cleared to compete in September 2018.

When Sanjita eventually heard about her doping positive and provisional suspension in May, her coach and another athlete had already been told about it a day earlier, said Bijen.

Her sample had two numbers in later documents, and she was erroneously informed that the B sample test would be carried out on June 6. 

It did not happen until August 28.

Because of the difficulty of getting a visa, said Bijen, "this wrong information led to Sanjita’s inability to attend the B Sample analysis, or send a proper witness.

"The witness appointed by the IWF did not witness the analysis."

There was further confusion over the laboratory having "two different [testing] machine IDs and lab IDs," Bijen said.

The IWLF and a coach deliberately delayed the notification of the doping positive to Sanjita, and kept it from the media, said Bijen, because the coach did not want adverse publicity while he was trying to win a national award.

One of the documents sent by the IWLF featured Sanjita’s forged, scanned signature and, she said: "The Indian Federation sent emails to the IWF without my knowledge, using my personal Gmail account."

Bijen raised the possibility of foul play within the Indian camp, and believes that if Sanjita did provide a positive sample, she may have had food or drink "spiked".

"As there exist so many anomalies, every possible mistake at at every possible level, and there exists a possible conspiracy in the whole process, it can be deduced safely that Sanjita is either a victim of sabotage by a rival competitor, or her sample has been mishandled," he said in a submission to the IWF.

The sample in question was taken in Las Vegas ©Getty Images
The sample in question was taken in Las Vegas ©Getty Images

The IWF suspended Sanjita on May 15 in 2018, pending analysis of the B sample. 

In January 2019 it lifted the suspension.

In a statement at the time the IWF said: "Given the complex nature of the case, the initial review under Article 7.2 of the World Anti-Doping Code involved multiple parties and required much more time than usual.

"Further to a recent expert opinion of the analytical aspects of the case, it was decided to lift the suspension pending the final decision of the panel.

"Pending the decision of the IWF Disciplinary Panel, the World Anti-Doping Agency will review the situation with the lab.

"As the case is still ongoing the IWF is not in a position to provide further comments on it."

That was more than 16 months ago - the IWF is still not in a position to provide any further comments.

In Sanjita’s letter of May 13 this year, she reminded the IWF that her sample had been taken two and a half years ago, and that she been told a decision was pending on March 9 2019.

She is desperate for an official outcome to clear her name.

Sanjita was grateful for support from the IWLF in making her case, and very glad that the IWF had lifted her provisional suspension, she said - but she continues to "live with uncertainty".

"I am of the belief that IWF is instituted to give a fair opportunity to every athlete, irrespective of sex, colour and nationality. 

"But IWF is doing a huge injustice to me by not giving a fair and a timely decision regarding my doping test.

"I also request IWF to give a concrete explanation about the humungous delay in giving fair justice."