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AFI to investigate Santhi case, uneven diet cited as possible reason By Sunrita Sen

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday December 20, 2006

By Sunrita Sen, New Delhi- The Indian athletics body on Wednesday confirmed that it is to launch an inquiry into why Soundarajan Santhi failed a gender test at the recent Asian Games which cost her the 800 metres silver medal. "Her medal is being returned. She failed the gender test in Doha on a technicality. We will now enquire into the matter," said Athletics Federation of India (AFI) secretary Lalit Bhanot.

The Indian Olympic Association's medical commission is also looking into the affair and is due to submit its report in 10 days.

Gender tests are only carried out if another person becomes suspicious.

The IANS news agency reported that Bhanot confirmed it was a fellow-athlete from India, but this could not be independently verified.

Santhi won the 800m silver last week in Doha before the news broke on Monday that she failed the test. She was later in the day stripped of the medal.

Santhi broke down before the award ceremony in Tamil Nadu capital Chennai Monday as reporters bombarded her with questions.

"My conscience is very clear. I have done nothing wrong," she said on the verge of tears.

Santhi, 25, was one of India's brightest hopes in women's athletics. She won the 800 metres and 1500 metres gold medals in the South Asian Games in Colombo in August.

She failed no previous tests and according to her coach, P Nagarajan, she underwent several tests - including those for estrogen and progestoerone (hormone) levels - before leaving for Doha.

But reports said that Santhi was turned down for a job on the sports quota by Indian railways after failing a gender test.

It has been suggested that her upbringing in impoverished rural India - she reportedly only started eating proper meals in 2004 after being discovered by Nagarajan - may be a reason behind the test result.

"The uneven diet of poor rural people in India often give rise to deficiencies that lead to all sorts of natural hormonal imbalances," said Sunitha Rao, a gynaecologist based in Chennai.

Santhi's friends were quoted as saying that her mother has been worried for a decade that her daughter had not gained puberty, but given her lack of education and poverty did not know what to do about it.

Priya, a fellow-athlete and friend said: "Her birth certificate says she is a girl. She studied in a girls' school and a girls' college. At all the meets she was just like one of us."

She also all but ruled out that Santhi had taken male hormone supplements, saying: "If there's a problem its a natural biological one."

For now it appears unlikely that Santhi will be taking part in competitions in the near future.

The only silver lining for Santhi is the 1.5 million rupees (33,540 US dollars) cash award given to her by the government of Tamil Nadu, her home state, for her winning performance at Doha.

Nagarajan also called on the government to help the athlete.

"Maybe the government can offer her a coaching job with school children. She needs to be helped through this difficult time. She needs medical and emotional counselling. Just think of the mental trauma she is going through," he said.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency