Using strong words to condemn the practice of African runners competing for cash in the colours of Arab countries in the Asian Games, Athletics Federation of India chief Adille Sumariwalla termed it as “human trafficking” which, he said, was unlikely to happen in future.
“I wear two hats and there are two ways of looking at it. My strong view is that the athletes are bought, used and thrown out by the Arab countries. What they are doing is completely wrong,” said Sumariwalla at a media interaction organised by the Sports Journalists’ Association of Mumbai on Wednesday.
Sumariwalla, also a council member of the world athletics body IAAF, said further that these African runners did not qualify properly to represent their adopted Arab countries.
“They are not given citizenship, they are given only residency, given fake passports, on the basis of which they are participating and once they finish they are thrown out; that’s human trafficking. I am opposed to human trafficking and have done it tooth and nail in IAAF (meetings),” said the former 11-time national sprint champion.
He said the future looked bleak for those countries in trying to adopt the same methods and winning medals, many of them of the golden hue.
“I have got that waiting period increased to three years. They need to be given full citizenship and in places like Qatar the (country’s) constitution does not allow that. Either they have to change the constitution or figure out how to include them,” he added.
However, Sumariwalla said that the AFI has already advised the Indian athletes, who could have won eight more gold medals but for Africans running under the garb of Arabs, to look ahead and compete at a higher level where the same Africans will be there representing their own continent.
“In the Asian Games we won eight silvers and lost eight gold medals (to Africans). But having said that while explaining to athletes I told them we are done with the Asian Games and we should be able to fight with Africans at all levels. The next stop is the world level, so be there.”
Sumariwalla said he had some reservations about the government’s TOPS scheme because of the manner of selection of sportspersons to be included in the scheme.
“I have huge reservations on the way the selection is done. If it’s a relay team three are selected and two others are not. It’s a team. Imagine a hockey team in which eight are there and three are not (in TOPS),” he explained.
While praising the institute of sport set up by a private steel firm in Bellary, Karnataka as “world class”, Sumariwalla questioned the air quality in that place.
“It’s outstanding, world class, but what is quality of air there? Can any athlete breath that air? You have mines, a power plant and a cement plant (in the vicinity),” he said.
Sumariwalla also said the Indian women’s relay teams were the best bets for a medal in world class competitions like next year’s world championships in Qatar and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“Our best chance is the relays and if I have to put my money I will put them on the relays,” he said.
He said Hima Das, who became a huge star with her storming lead run for the gold medal-winning women’s 4x400m relay team in the Asian Games in Jakarta after capturing the silver in the one-lap race earlier, would have to clock below 50 to be a force in world level meets.
“Hima Das will have to get her time below 50; her graph has been so fast that it will flatten out. She cannot continue at that pace. We will have to preserve her – if not this (2020) Olympics but for the next Olympics.”
Olympian shooter-turned coach Deepali Deshpande, wrester-turned coach coach Kaka Pawar and Boxing Federation of India’s secretary general Jay Kowli also participated in the interaction arranged as a precursor to SJAM’s annual awards for the year.