The Athletics Integrity Unit on Sunday said that the suspended Salwa Eid Naser was already under investigation for missing doping tests when she won the 400 meters gold medal at the Athletics World Championships last year.

This means that if Naser if found guilty, she could lose her gold medal from last year’s World Championships and also miss out on competing in next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Naser, who ran the third fastest time ever when she won 400m gold at the 2019 Doha World Championships, has been provisionally banned after failing to meet ‘whereabouts’ criteria, the AIU had announced on Friday.

The AIU statement on Sunday, though, has raised further questions. According to a report by The Guardian, an athlete should be immediately suspended if they miss three dope tests in 12 months. The AIU, however, took eight months to provisionally suspend Naser. Add to that, the AIU said in its statement on Sunday that the athlete had a fourth whereabouts failure in January 2020.

“The investigation into Ms Naser’s three whereabouts failures in 2019 was ongoing at the time of the Doha World Championships and she was not provisionally suspended at that time,” the AIU said in its statement. “Following conclusion of the investigation and a fourth whereabouts failure in January 2020, a Notice of Charge was issued and Ms Naser subject to an immediate provisional suspension.”

Naser had put on an Instagram post in which she said that she had missed “only three drug tests”, that too before the World Championships in Doha last year.

“It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat,” she had said in the video. “Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image. It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

The Nigerian-born 22-year-old clocked 48.14 seconds to win the one-lap race at the Doha worlds, placing her third in the all-time list behind Marita Koch (47.60 in 1985) and Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99 in 1983).

Naser’s gold medal-winning performance in Doha made her just the second woman to win a global-level title for Bahrain, following in the footsteps of Ethiopian-born Maryam Yusuf Jamal, who won two world 1,500m titles (2007, 2009) and was upgraded to Olympic gold in the 2012 London Games after the initial winner and runner-up were both banned for biological passport irregularities.

Elite athletes are required to provide the AIU with their whereabouts 90 days in advance so they can be subjected to out-of-competition doping tests.

Under World Athletics’ rules, any combination of three whereabouts failures (filing failure and/or missed test) within a period of 12 months constitutes an anti-doping rule violation, for which the sanction is two years’ ineligibility subject to a reduction to a minimum of one year depending on the athlete’s degree of fault.

The AIU is the independent anti-doping watchdog for track and field, set up in 2017.

(With AFP inputs)