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Coach threatened me, said he wants me as wife: Cyclist complains to SAI

According to the complaint, when the cyclist decided to quit the camp and return to India, Sharma called her family and asked them to get her married as she did not have a future in the sport.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Mumbai |
Updated: June 8, 2022 3:04:23 pm
The swift action on the cyclist’s complaint is a welcome departure from how similar cases have been dealt with in the past. (Representative Image/Getty)

SAYING THAT she feared for her “life”, a top Indian cyclist has accused the chief national team coach, R K Sharma, of allegedly forcing himself into her room, offering a “post-training massage”, “forcefully” trying to pull her towards him, and asking her to “sleep with him”, during a camp in Slovenia last month, according to her complaint emailed to the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

The complaint states that Sharma allegedly told the cyclist that he “wants” her “to be his wife”. When she resisted, the complaint alleges, the coach threatened to destroy her career by “removing her from the National Centre of Excellence (NCOE)”, and making sure she would “sell vegetables on the road”.

According to the complaint, when the cyclist decided to quit the camp and return to India, Sharma called her family and asked them to get her married as she did not have a future in the sport.

Sharma is still in Slovenia with the rest of the Indian team at the training camp for the Asian Championships this month, and is scheduled to return on June 14. He did not respond to calls and messages from The Indian Express seeking his response to the allegations. The coach has been involved with the national team since 2014.

The cyclist’s complaint was brought to light on Monday by SAI in a brief statement, which said she was “immediately” brought back “to ensure her safety” — and that a panel has been set up to “investigate the matter”, which “is being dealt (with) on priority”.

In a separate statement on Monday, the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) identified the complainant and the coach, said it stands “with the complainant” and has formed a probe panel of its own.

In the detailed complaint, the cyclist describes the coach’s conduct as “inappropriate, unlawful and objectionable”.

“I was scheduled to leave for the cycling training camp in Slovenia for the date 15th May 2022 to 14th June 2022,” the complaint states. “After all the logistical arrangements were made, to my sheer surprise and shock, three days before my scheduled travel date, I received a call from my coach Mr R K Sharma telling me that I have to share the room at Hotel Balnea in Slovenia with him alone,” it states.

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The cyclist “entered a state of extreme panic and anxiousness” and had difficulty sleeping, which led her to seek support from the sports psychologist attached to the cycling NCOE, according to the complaint.

“Since I had to catch the flight to Slovenia in a couple of days, I was left with almost no time to process the information provided to me by the coach,” the complaint states. “In my state of extreme confusion and anxiousness on losing the opportunity to train abroad and attend the camp, I thought I would reach Slovenia and try to request for alternate arrangements.”

Upon reaching the hotel in Slovenia on May 16, the complaint states, the cyclist requested a separate room but Sharma allegedly responded in a “rude and dismissive manner” and told her that she should have “stayed back in India”.

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“Subsequently, my request for a separate/different room was not paid heed to. I had no option but to be in the coach’s room, which was also originally designated to me. This is also shown in the hotel records,” the complaint states.

With the help of the team’s support staff, the complaint states, the issue was brought to the notice of a senior SAI official “who immediately organised a separate room” for her.

According to the complaint, this move purportedly incensed Sharma, who allegedly threatened constantly to “destroy her career”.

“He regularly kept making threatening comments with regard to my career and told me that I will be removed from the cycling NCOE and he will make sure that I sell vegetables on the road. I continue to not have any words to describe the extreme mental agony, shock and fear that I continue to feel till this very moment,” the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Sharma allegedly invited the cyclist to his room on May 19 for a “post-training massage as he assumed that my body would be tight post-training” but she ignored the request. It states that on May 25, the cyclist was to travel to Germany for an event along with the boys’ team but Sharma allegedly did not take her along, claiming there was no spare room.

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Consequently, the cyclist was forced to stay back in Slovenia while the rest of the team travelled to Germany, the complaint states.

“However, the worst was yet to come… On the 29th of May 2022, the coach returned from Germany early in the morning at approximately 7 am. I heard a knock on my door. Upon opening the door, I found, much to my horror, the coach physically forcing himself into my room. He then proceeded to lay on the bed. When I requested him to leave, he forcefully tried pulling me towards him and asked me to come and sleep with him,” the complaint states.

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“In addition, he made comments such as — I should behave like his wife as he is extremely fond of me and wants me to be his wife,” it states.

“This incident spiralled me into a state of shock and panic. At this point, I was extremely scared for my safety, well-being, and life. I constantly requested him and pleaded with him to leave my room and made the excuse that I was getting late for training and had to get ready,” it states.

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“After a few hours, I somehow managed to gather myself and my emotions and reported this incident to the sport psychologist,” it states.

According to the complaint, the cyclist “could not tolerate the advances and explicit sexual overtones” made by the coach, decided to leave the camp, and spoke to the CEO of Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), Pushpendra Garg, who booked a ticket for June 3.

When contacted, Garg told The Indian Express: “After we got to know about the incident and that she was not comfortable, we immediately told her ‘we will get you back’. During the period, SAI officials and the athlete’s relationship manager were in touch with her.”

The cyclist’s complaint states that the coach “has destroyed me mentally and emotionally, which is now impacting my sporting performance”. It ends with a “humble request”: “take the strictest possible action against Mr R.K Sharma and not just ensure my safety but also the safety of all others around me, especially female athletes.”

 

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First published on: 08-06-2022 at 04:49:14 am

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