An athlete not part of the national team has obtained entry at the World Championships, even as the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had to write to the international body requesting that another, who was not initially picked by the selection committee, be allowed to participate. Sudha Singh was not selected to participate in the World Championships but on Saturday night when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) uploaded the start list for the World Athletics Championships, she was listed in the 3000 metre steeplechase.
This was just hours after the AFI wrote to the IAAF asking them to consider the entry for PU Chitra, the gold medallist at the Asian Athletics Championships in the 1,500m, after the Kerala High Court directed the federation to ensure her participation. Three gold medal winners at the Asian Athletics Championships — Chitra, Sudha and Ajay Kumar Saroj (1,500m) — were not selected though they were eligible for participation by virtue of being area meet champions.
In the case of Chitra and Saroj, the AFI had justified their omission by arguing that their timings did not match even the national junior records and showed little or no improvement at the Inter-state meet in Guntur. In Sudha’s case, the reason for non-selection given was her non-participation in Guntur.
“All athletes were informed by Secretary AFI that they must participate in the Inter-State Championships in Guntur (15-18 July, 2017) and if they do not perform close to the IAAF Qualifying standards, they will not be considered by the selection committee for the selection for the World Championships,” AFI president Adille Sumariwalla wrote in an open letter following Chitra’s decision to approach the high court.
Explaining why Sudha was specifically omitted, Sumariwalla stated: “Did not participate in the Inter-State following AAC 2017; it was informed to all athletes including medal winners from AAC 2017 who did not attain IAAF Worlds Q. Mark that it was mandatory for them to compete and get at least close to Q. Mark for being considered for selection.”
So how did Sudha’s name find a mention in the entry list of the IAAF? AFI secretary CK Valson said on Sunday: “Sudha is an established athlete and we expected her to achieve timings close to the qualifying standards set for the World Championships. Her entry was submitted just after the conclusion of the Asian Athletics Championships. However, as her timings were not up to the mark, the selection committee decided not to include her in the team.”
According to one version, at the selection committee meeting, an official said that coach Nikolai Snesarev was of the opinion that Sudha should not participate at the World Championships because her timing was ‘poor’ and it would be better if she focused on training with an eye on next year’s Asian Games. Hence, though her entry had been forwarded, she was not picked.
Sudha had clocked 9:59.47 at the Asian Championships, while her personal best stands at 9:26.55. Sumariwalla was not available for comment. Not everyone seems to be on the same page when it comes to athletes whose names have been forwarded to the IAAF. AFI’s chairman of selectors GS Randhawa said he was not aware of how Sudha had got an entry at the World Championships. “I don’t know how an entry for an athlete who was not picked by the selection committee was forwarded to the IAAF,” Randhawa said. “I was not aware that Sudha Singh had got an entry for the World Championships.”
The lack of a consistent policy when it comes to team selection for the World Championships was highlighted by the Kerala High Court. “In any case, it cannot be said that the procedure adopted for selection was fair… In addition, it is also seen that the statements made by the President of the second respondent (AFI) were statements made without any bonafides,” the court stated while directing the AFI to ensure Chitra’s participation at the World Championships.
Two other athletes, G Lakshmanan (5,000m) and Swapna Burman (heptathlon) were included in the team after they won gold at the Asian Athletics Championships. However, they too didn’t meet qualifying standards.