Bhamara’s wait for anti-doping verdict gets longer

Satnam Singh Bhamara will never forget November 19, the day his life was turned upside-down by the National Anti-Doping Agency’s (NADA) decision to provisionally suspend him last year for an alleged dope offence.

The 7’2” centre — whose journey from Baloke, a village in the Barnala district of Punjab, to the NBA (National Basketball Association) became the subject of a documentary “One in a Billion” — found himself fighting a lonely battle to clear his name. But, exactly a year on, the 24-year-old doesn’t know what the future holds for him as his appeal against the suspension is awaiting a final verdict after a hearing last week.

Bhamara, who played in the Canadian National Basketball League for St John’s Edge last year, had sought a hearing with NADA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) in 2019, maintaining that he “was and remains a clean competitor and has always played basketball fairly”.

Bhamara had reportedly tested positive for terbutaline, which according to the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) is a “specified substance” and attracts a “maximum ban of two years if the sportsperson fails to prove that it had been taken inadvertently”. Bhamara had claimed in 2019 that the drug had got “into his system by mistake via a supplement”. His lawyers argued the same before the ADDP in the hearing conducted online last week.

Now Bhamara — who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 2015 as the 52nd overall pick and played for the team in the Summer League and its D-League affiliate, Texas Legends, between 2015 and 17 — is waiting to hear from the ADDP so that he can get his career back on track.

Under normal circumstances, Bhamara would have hoped to be eligible to play in any smaller leagues around this time had the ADDP conducted its hearing within three months of provisionally suspending him. But the process got delayed due to the pandemic as NADA had suspended its activities due to the nationwide lockdown.

“Though we are sure he has done nothing wrong, the fact that we had to wait for a year just for the hearing is very disappointing. The National Anti-Doping Code says that the disciplinary hearing should be held within three months and here we have waited for a year. Think of the effect it has had on Bhamara. Even if the panel rules in his favour now, he has already been punished for a year for no fault of his,” Bhamara’s lawyer Vidushpat Singhania said.

Singhania said the same online hearing which happened last week could have been arranged during lockdown. “It could have been held earlier. The courts are conducting hearings on Zoom, why couldn’t NADA do that earlier?” questioned Singhania.

The NADA appeal apart, Bhamara is also dealing with a whole lot of other uncertainties. He has failed to hold his position in the NBA’s developmental league because of lack of pace and agility, despite his height and “early skills” receiving a lot of attention when he was picked to train at the IMG Academy in Florida as a 15-year-old. But with age on his side, Bhamara can try his luck in leagues across the world, including Japan, Taiwan and Canada though making it back to the NBA would be a long shot.

It is for this reason that Bhamara has expressed interest in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). He had attended a WWE tryout in 2017 and though not much happened, the issue has hogged limelight in the last couple of months.

“His height and bulk are a big attraction for WWE and he is already a known face. He could be a huge draw in the made-for-TV extravaganza. I have heard he has bulked up a bit more and built on his strength during lockdown,” a source said on condition of anonymity. The talk in basketball circles is that Bhamara can earn megabucks in WWE, something he cannot hope to in professional basketball as he grows older.

Bhamara, though, says he is still concentrating on his basketball career. “I am working on my game as I want to play basketball because I know that I can compete against the top guys,” he said.

But all that depends on the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel’s verdict — the sooner the better.

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