The death of a 15-year-old Sports Authority of India (SAI) trainee in a suicide pact among four young girls comes as a big shock. Relatives of the deceased trainee allege that she was harassed and that the coach had hit her with an oar, leaving her in agony. Other reports say that the girls were admonished for drinking beer. All these remain in the realm of conjecture while investigations are being carried out.
This incident only highlights the state of affairs in the country’s premier sports institution. That the incident happened in the SAI hostel is a poor reflection of the manner in which they are supervised. That athletes get shoddy treatment in SAI hostels is nothing new and has been repeatedly highlighted in this paper. Even well-known women athletes in the past have complained bitterly about poor facilities, diet and the gender bias.
While the SAI takes in a number of junior athletes, seen as India’s future medal hopes, many times they are not provided the environment required for them to grow and compete without any fear or concern. Coaches have a huge role to play here as father figures, but there have been several cases where they use abusive language at young trainees, including young women. One of the trainees who attempted suicide was a gold medalist at the National Games held in Kerala earlier this year. There have been reports in the past of even sexual harassment cases not being promptly dealt with by the SAI, despite Supreme Court rulings clearly stipulating the norms for tackling these complaints. A woman shooter’s sexual harassment case — the incident took place last year — is still dragging on. The SAI did not even transfer the official who faces the allegations while the investigation was on, making it impossible for the shooter to train at the venue.
India hopes to step up sporting achievements in the future. This unfortunate episode should serve as a wake-up call to clean up the SAI and ensure that it becomes an institution where parents, often coming from poor backgrounds, would want their young children to stay and seek sporting excellence.