The high medal count by Indians at the recently concluded Asian Athletics Championship provided an encouraging prologue to the set stage for the World Athletics Championships. So far, India’s performance at the biggest platform for world athletics, second only to the Olympics, has been less than satisfactory with the last medal at the worlds coming in 2003. This was courtesy a remarkable 6.70m jump that earned her the bronze medal in that edition.
The debate regarding whether India’s performance in Odisha is a consistent reflection of the progress Indian Athletics has made is ongoing and, right now, it seems all too speculative. There is one thing, however, that seems to dog the state of sports is the utter incompetence of the federations that control it. From increasing stories about athletes being mistreated to reports about ineffective training facilities, the politics that haunts Indian sports is as fatal to progress as anything else. The latest revelations regarding the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), now, threaten to further mar India’s already shoddy record at the worlds.
The news about an unbelievable faux pas by the AFI was broken a few days back and, with it, came the realisation that India might up having no participation in a major World Championships event because of it. Back in February this year, New Delhi was the site of the National Racewalking Championship which was recognised as one of the main qualifying events for the worlds. Three of India’s racewalkers notched up timings which were well within the qualification mark set up by the IAAF but the effort would prove to be completely useless for no faults of their own. Sandeep Kumar, Jitender Singh and Chandan Singh registered timings of 3:55.59, 4:02.11 and 4:04.18 respectively with Sandeep Kumar even finishing first in the race. All seemed well until a certain regulation by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the Association for International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), completely derailed the trio’s chances at the upcoming tournament.
As per IAAF guidelines, for a performance at the national level to be valid for achieving entry into international competitions, the race course must be measured by an IAAF/AIMS-approved Grade A or B international measurer. Three international or area racewalking judges are required to be on duty during this time.
It so happened that the AFI appointed measurer for the National Championship did not meet these specific guidelines. With each country allowed a maximum of only three slots in this event, the mass disqualification means that India will be left with zero representation in the Men’s 50km racewalk.
Though there has been no official confirmation from the AFI regarding the trio’s participation in London, various newspapers have reported the worst. It seems the AFI-appointed measurer’s grading certification had expired during his officiating time in Delhi, something that was irresponsibly looked over. The gaffe has even worse consequences as, with the scarcity of qualifying events in racewalking, these athletes will not get a second chance to book a berth at the worlds. Of these three precise names, Sandeep Kumar has qualified for the 20km event as well but his poor performance in that category leave little to no hope of a competitive performance there. Kumar predominantly being a 50km specialist, his presence among the contingent for 20km racewalking makes no difference at all.
In an unrelated yet similar incident, long distance runner Chitra PU has alleged short sightedness on the part of the Federation after she was overlooked for the Worlds by them. The girl from Kerala received a lot of national recognition after winning Gold in the women’s 1500m race.
As per IAAF guidelines, a win in the continental tournament automatically ensures qualification for the Worlds provided the national federations provide final clearances. For Chitra, 3000m Steeplechase Champion Sudha Singh and men’s 1500m Gold medallist Ajoy Kumar Saroj, this clearance proved hard to get.
All three athletes have won gold medals at the Asia Athletics Championships but the selection committee of AFI have held back. It was of the view that the performance of all three of them at the meet in Bhubaneshwar was well below the competitive standards of world events.
Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala has extended his support to Chitra’s predicament in a strongly worded post on social media. “She belongs not just to Malayalis but also the world. Ignorance towards a talented sports star can not be justified in any way,” he wrote.
മലയാളികളുടെ മാത്രമല്ല രാജ്യത്തിന്റെ തന്നെ അഭിമാനമായ കായിക താരം പി.യു.ചിത്രയെ ലോക അത് ലറ്റിക് ചാമ്പ്യൻഷിപ്പിൽ നിന്ന് ഒഴിവ…
With the selection committee in question comprising of legendary athletes like Anju Bobby George and PT Usha, one might end up having a little faith in their decision to leave these three out but this choice warrants the second question. 5000m and 10000m Asian Champion G Lakshmanan recorded timings that were well below that of the top 200 world runners. Despite this, his berth for the worlds at London remains clear and confirmed.
The World Championships are scheduled to take place between August 4-13. For now, it seems like the positivity that surrounded Indian athletics after the culmination of the continental event in Odisha is fast fading.