On the eve of Gold Coast 2018, as most nations went into the ‘Games mode’, India squabbled over accreditation and accommodation of its officials. On Tuesday morning, Saina Nehwal threatened to pull out of the Games if her father Harvir was not allowed to stay inside the Athletes Village. By evening, Harvir’s privilege was upgraded.
Around the same time, the weightlifters made a demand that their physio, Aakrant Saxena, be allowed inside the Village to help them in their recovery process. Their plea, however, fell on deaf ears. This means India’s best medal prospects, including world champion Mirabai Chanu, will now be without a physio when they open their campaign on Thursday. Both, Harvir and Saxena, arrived in Gold Coast as ‘personal coaches’ of their respective athletes. However, as per the rules, personal coaches are not allowed to stay inside the Athletes Village since they are termed as ‘extras’ and not part of the official contingent. They could only enter the residential area during the day time.
What initially looked like a routine organisational mismanagement descended into a crisis after Saina threatened to pull out. In an email to IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehtra she wrote: “…if his (father) accreditation is no cleared as an official I am not going to play the matches.”
The email followed a series of angry tweets by Saina, in which she said she had paid for her father’s travel and was ‘surprised’ to find out that his name was missing from the team official’s list. To avoid an embarrassment of its star athlete pulling out on the eve of the opening ceremony, India’s chief of delegation Vikram Sisodia said he ‘spent the half of the day trying to convince the organisers.’ “Saina’s father was earlier named as her personal coach, who is not allowed to stay in the village. So we had to tell the organisers to change his category and provide him a card that would help him stay with the athletes,” Sisodia said. “It took a lot of convincing to his accreditation card changed. They have upgraded his privileges and he can now stay with Saina.”
Both Harvir and Saxena stayed at a nearby hotel on Monday. While Harvir’s inclusion was objected by the government, Saxena was on the list of officials cleared by the Sports Authority of India on March 21 after the federation made two written requests – one each in February and March.
But absence of their physio has severely hampered the lifters’ recovery process, since most of it takes place late evening after training. Saxena was with the weightlifting team during their pre-Games camp in Melbourne. Because of the last-minute decision to include him in the team, he was assured by the ministry and IOA that his accreditation would be sorted out upon reaching Gold Coast. Glasgow CWG gold medalist Sathish Sivalingam said their recovery process is getting affected due to the physio’s absence. “We were assured he would stay with us in the Village. He needs to be there for the simple reason that our recovery starts only in late evening once our practice is over,” Sivalingam said. “Right now, he has to leave the village at 8 so it doesn’t serve any purpose. Moreover, he will not be allowed in competition area as well which is a concern.”
That is turning out to be a bigger headache for the lifters. The nature of the sport is such that lifters need constant massages and treatment in-between two attempts. It is understood that they requested contingent doctor Amit Soni to be present to help them with the bare minimum. “He said he has another meeting to attend, so that’s a dilemma for our team,” a weightlifting official said.
Sisodia denied getting request to include weightlifting physio in the official team. The composition of India’s contingent has been a highly-debated issue this time round. The ministry didn’t clear the name of sports medicine expert Arun Mendiratta, who was named by the IOA as the chief medical officer of the contingent. Not having an experienced hand showed as the Indian contingent faced the embarrassment of being sanctioned for breaking the Commonwealth Games’ no needle policy.
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