CHANDIGARH: Hours after she qualified for the Rio Olympics on Sunday, discus thrower Seema Antil-Punia accused the sports ministry of delaying the release of funds for her training abroad.
“I asked the ministry for help in mid-2015. Had the ministry released the funds then, I would have qualified last year itself,” Punia told HT from California, where she won the gold at the Pat Young Throwers Classic with a throw of 62.62m. She beat 2008 Olympic champion Stephanie Brown Trafton, who settled for silver with a throw of 60.50m. The Olympic qualification mark is 61m.
Punia said she faced hurdles every step of the way, while trying to get the ministry to approve funds for her Rio Games preparations.
In 2014, the 32-year-old won gold at the Incheon Asian Games and silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She met officials of the sports ministry and Sport Authority of India (SAI) soon after Incheon, and made a presentation on her Rio plans. In March 2015, the ministry included her in the Target Olympics Podium Scheme and approved Rs 75 lakh for her training. However, as the ministry took almost eight months to release the funds, she went to the United States only in January.
Most of the country’s top athletes have been training abroad since last July.
Describing how she negotiated her way through the country’s notorious tangle of red tape, Punia said she received the same answer every time she tried approaching the authorities for funds — her documents were incomplete and more paperwork would be needed.
The sports ministry deposited Rs 19 lakh in Punia’s account in January. She had to send four more reminders before it released another Rs 13 lakh to pay the foreign coach she was to train with in the United States.
“I am frustrated and disgusted by the way sports ministry officials treat players,” said Punia. “Finally, it was SAI project officer Dilip Singh who helped me get the funds, and I am really thankful to him.”
This is not the first time Punia found herself at the receiving end of red-tapism in the sports ministry. She faced similar issues while seeking funds to undergo training in the United States for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Ironically, the ministry — while settling her bills — approved only $90.52 in food costs for two people for a period of 85 days. This means, she won two medals for the country on a diet of just half a dollar (amounting to Rs 35) a day.
The sports ministry even refused to clear Punia’s medical bills, incurred when she was admitted to a hospital in the United States. The sportsperson should have taken medical insurance before going abroad for training, it claimed.
A ministry official later told Punia that funds for the Target Olympics Podium Scheme would be released only if she coughed up Rs 1.83 lakh to settle the previous bill. Though the player did as she was told, the funds were allegedly delayed by five months.