Indian wrestlers, including the Beijing Games bronze medallist Sushil Kumar, are expected to match skills with world class rivals at the London Olympics. But if they come up short, you can probably blame it on their lack of strength due to sub-standard diet.
The Olympic preparatory camp for one of the most intensive physical sports had limped along with a pathetic kitchen to feed the wrestlers. Though the camp has been held on a long-term basis at the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) Sonepat centre in Haryana, the plight of the athletes was exposed only when former Asian Games medallist Khajan Singh, a member of the sports ministry's apex panel set up to monitor Olympic preparatory camps, made a surprise inspection.
The 1986 Seoul Asiad silver-medallist was shocked at the quality of food served to the nation's elite athletes. "Olympics-bound players are not getting adequate food despite the fact that the sports ministry has recommended that all these athletes should be provided diet for Rs. 675 daily (Rs. 425 for food and Rs. 250 for supplement). I was shocked to see rotten fruits used to make juice and the unhygienic conditions in the kitchen," Khajan Singh told HT of his visit to the centre. "There is no dietitian or medical expert to oversee the quality of food being served."
The poor conditions belie the fact that the centre is a wrestling hub and major camps are held there regularly.
What is even more surprising is that none of the top grapplers, including Sushil Kumar, had complained. Khajan blamed the system, pointing out that the moment a player spoke out, he or she will be shown the door.
In his report to SAI and the sport ministry, Khajan has noted that the day he visited Sonepat, nothing that was on the menu was served.
He has recommended that for Sonepat to hold Olympic or national camps in future, the mess contractor must be immediately sacked. But nothing has changed as the final Olympic camp for the four male wrestlers began on May 28. It will continue till June 15.
Coaches in the camp refused to elaborate. Sanjeev Sharma, in-charge of the Sonepat centre, said his department has served a show-cause notice to the contractor, PK Jain. "Since it is a legal matter, we can't throw the contractor out immediately," he said.
However, two SAI officials, Salil Bhatnagar and Parveen Kakkar, have been shifted out following Khajan's report. There have been complaints against the mess contractor in the past, but had been let off lightly. The SAI also runs its day-boarding and centre of excellence schemes at Sonepat and the same contractor provides food.
The Sonepat centre also runs a day-boarding and centre of excellence schemes and the same contractor takes care of the catering.
There are over 100 other athletes who train at the centre but their complaints to officials have found no response.