Amid row, fresh gymnastics trials for world meet
Although Dipa Karmakar’s impressive showing in the 2016 Rio Olympics shone a light on Indian gymnastics, uncertainty has ruled the sport since the sports ministry derecognised the federation because of factionalism.Updated: Sep 16, 2019 09:18 IST
Ruthuja Nataraj, a 16-year-old gymnast, had flown in with her family from their US base in Cincinnati. Her mission? To take part in the open selection trials that had been announced for September 2-3 at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex here. The target was to qualify for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships to be held in Stuttgart from October 4-13, a major qualifying event for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
In the end, there not even scope for warm-up as Ruthuja and her family endured a miserable time in the Capital. To their utter dejection, the trials had been postponed by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the government body empowered to provide financial assistance to national teams for international competitions as well as their camps.
Gymnastics is all about rhythm, ebb and flow. Not in the Indian set-up uncertainty of whether the administrators will work in step is a bigger concern among athletes than executing a routine fluently. The gymnasts will hope things go off smoothly after SAI announced fresh trials on Monday, also the last day to make any final changes to a list already submitted for the Worlds.
But Ruthuja won’t get the chance to show off her skills, learnt in India as a young girl and honed in the US, making use of the world class gymnastics infrastructure available in the country.
Ruthuja’s father had run from pillar to post early this month, desperate for an update on fresh dates for the trials. With the Stuttgart championships offering berths for Tokyo, and having invested time and money, he was at his wit’s end. But no fresh announcement came from SAI officials or the sports ministry. Eventually, Ruthuja, born and brought up in Bengaluru, had had enough of the experience as she returned to the US.
“It wasn’t a good experience. We were very keen to compete as my daughter had prepared well for the trials,” Nataraj said over phone from Cincinnati. The family moved to the US in 2012. “She learnt the basics in Bengaluru, but in the US there is good opportunity to improve her skills,” he said.
Although Dipa Karmakar’s impressive showing in the 2016 Rio Olympics shone a light on Indian gymnastics, uncertainty has ruled the sport since the sports ministry derecognised the federation because of factionalism. Since there are two GFI factions, one headed by Sudhakar Shetty affiliated to FIG and the other under Shanti Kumar Singh recognised by IOA, the government has derecognised the federation since 2011.
When Secretary Sports, Radheyshyam Julaniya, was asked about the initial trials being cancelled he refused to entertain any question on the controversy.
However, late on Saturday, SAI announced the fresh trials. The announcement in the eleventh hour though won’t see the participation of Ruthuja. “Hopefully it will help others,” said her father.
Since the original trials were not held, the GFI affiliated with the world governing body had shortlisted six gymnasts, including three women, on the basis of their recent performances. It was to meet the September 4 deadline for sending entries by name. Rakesh Patra, Yogeshwar Singh and Debang Dey in men and Pranati Nayak, Pranati Das and Sharddha Talekar in women were named.
There had been further confusion over the cancellation when SAI’s administrative section on August 26 requested IOA to take over and conduct the trials on September 2-3. IOA declined saying it doesn’t have the authority to hold the trials and send the team. IOA secretary general Rajiv Mehta informed SAI that selecting the team was the national federation’s prerogative.
While the gymnasts were in the dark, the sports ministry wrote to FIG secretary general Nicolas Baumpane on September 11 requesting the body to allow IOA to hold the trials. The letter signed by Inder Dhamija, joint secretary in the sports ministry, got no response from FIG.
This perhaps forced SAI to invite the GFI faction affiliated to the world body and the IOA to jointly hold the trials on Monday. “Hopefully, it will benefit the gymnasts as without government approval, the team will not be allowed to wear the Indian jersey,” said a GFI official.