The suicide attempt by the rowers, with one of them losing the battle for life, is unfortunate. The girl was only 16 and a bright sporting future lay ahead of her. Being a sportsperson, it’s hard to digest that a peer has committed suicide. The concerned authorities in the Sports Authority of India (SAI) should find out what forced the budding talent to take such an extreme step, and the guilty should be punished.
I am a product of the SAI training centre and owe a lot to it. What shocks me is that even after producing world-class results, including Olympic medals, there is hardly any improvement in the condition of the centres. Located in small cities and in remote areas, the centres are a picture of neglect.
Most of the trainees at these centres come from humble backgrounds, so even if you give them minimum facilities, they won’t object. They endure all this because they are here with a mission — they feel their sporting achievements will change the fortune of their families.
When I used to train at the Bhiwani centre, there were hardly any facilities. We were given small rooms and I don’t remember having seen the walls being whitewashed. In the last couple of years, there has been some improvement, but not the kind required to produce world-class athletes. Even today, SAI trainees in Bhiwani train under tin sheds and in summers, when the mercury is high in North India, its painful. Judging by the standard of the Bhiwani centre, I can imagine the conditions in other centres.
After the 2010 CWG, the conditions at national camps improved, but rudimentary things like aids for recovery and rehabilitation continue to be denied. We all know about the masseur and physio being the most dispensable part of the squad. If athletes like Sushil Kumar can be denied a masseur for the London Olympics even after winning a medal at Beijing in 2008, one can imagine the plight of lesser mortals.
Compare this to the United States Olympic Committee’s facilities at Colorado Springs and you’ll know we are living in a different era. They have specialists to take care of every aspect of human physiology and psychology and their diet specialists provide them with three options — dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan — and nutritional guidelines to cater to every athlete.
In India, we are only asking for basic facilities like improved living conditions, better-equipped rooms and decent diet prepared in a clean environment and served in clean dining rooms. Even this is being denied to athletes. In the case of the rowers, the big question is not what made them take such an extreme step, but whether the system can provide our future athletes with a congenial atmosphere so that they don’t end up feeling wasted or uncared for.
The writer is an Olympic medallist