The joy of winning the pole vault gold at the Indian Open Jumps competition in Trivandrum on Tuesday was short-lived for Pavithra Venkatesh. The Tamil Nadu youngster, along with four other athletes from her academy, were forced to deboard their train at Kollam Junction just an hour and a half into their journey as a ticket collector objected to them tying their poles to window railings. The athletes were left stranded at the station until they sought permission from railway officials and continued their journey towards their hometown in Salem.
The problem may have been resolved but the youngsters, who had to make frantic calls for help, feel scarred and dejected. “Railway Police was waiting for us at Kollam. The way they dealt with us was humiliating. It was as if we were caught stealing. They untied our poles and let them drop to the floor. The way we were asked to get off the train while people stared at us was embarrassing. That too just a day after I was crowned national champion,” Pavithra told The Indian Express.
The fibre-glass poles used by national-level athletes can be anywhere between three to five metres in length. With the protective case, they can easily cover four enclosures in length on a passenger train. Since every athlete has a pole suited to their specifications in length and flexibility, vaulters have no option but to carry their own equipment to the venue.
Wednesday’s incident has infuriated senior athletes, including national record holder Subramani Siva. The army man says this wasn’t an isolated incident and that he has faced similar problems while carrying his equipment on trains.
“Such incidents will deter youngsters from taking up the sport. It is already a huge task to carry the equipment and railway officials often make it tougher. I feel anguished and helpless that despite being the national record holder I can’t do anything,” Siva said.
Last year, while returning from Warangal to Chennai, Siva was asked to deboard along with his equipment, before a few calls from senior Army officers sorted the issue. “I am an army man and can speak boldly but what about young kids who are just starting? This kind of behaviour is unacceptable. I spoke to Pavithra and the kids and felt terrible,” he added.
After the incident was brought to the notice of senior officials, Railways released a statement saying the ticket collector objected due to the “potential risk that poles could infringe the signalling post or any other objects during the train running.”
“Southern Railway has always promoted sports and sports development. Many of our pole vaulters carry their equipment inside the train by properly securing them with due intimation to TTEs who have always obliged and helped them,” the statement read.
Chief public relations officer B Guganesan told this paper that the ticket collector in question was “counselled” and asked to handle such situations more sensitively and tactfully. “We have told the TTE that they must talk to the athletes nicely and explain the situation,” Guganesan said.