279 Indian athletes fail dope tests in two years

India's Sini Jose (R), Ashwini Akkunji (L) Manjeet Kaur (2L) and Mandeep Kaur (2R) celebrate their win in the women's 4x400m relay final of the Track and Field competition of the XIX Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on October 12, 2010. They tested positive for banned steroids such as stanozolol and methandienone in June, 2011.

NEW DELHI - Some 279 Indian sports people have tested positive for banned substances in the last two years, the sports minister said on Monday, adding weightlifters topped the list of drug cheats.

The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) had conducted 9,898 tests over the last three years, Jitendra Singh told parliament, while naming all of the offenders in a written statement.

The national- and international-level athletes tested by the authorities are not well known.

"The government and NADA are working towards dope-free sports in the country to rid sports of this menace and create a clean and healthy environment for sports in India," the minister said.

The Indian government has a zero tolerance policy towards drugs in sports and several workshops and educational programmes have been conducted to create greater awareness about the issue, he said.

The most recent high-profile cases of doping in Indian sports involved six athletes, including Ashwini Akkunji, who won gold medals in the 400m hurdles and the 4x400m relay at the 2010 Asian Games.

Akkunji, along with team mates Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, Jauna Murmu, Tiana Mary and Priyanka Panwar, tested positive for banned steroids such as stanozolol and methandienone in June, 2011.

NADA suspended the athletes for a year after the women blamed contaminated food supplements supplied by their former Ukrainian coach Yuri Ogorodnik for the positive results.

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) increased the ban to two years in July 2012, upholding an appeal by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for stricter punishment.

But the ruling came with a provision to include the period of suspension already served, meaning the athletes were eligible for competition from June this year.