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Saturday, September 18, 2021

No personal physio for a day makes no difference: WFI on Vinesh’s grievance

WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar retorted on Friday that Vinesh’s performance should not have been affected by the absence of her regular physio, Purnima Ngomdir.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: August 14, 2021 12:43:37 pm
Vinesh Phogat of India was without her physio in Tokyo Olympics (Source: Reuters)

A day after Vinesh Phogat gave her side of the story about what went wrong at the Olympics, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has argued that not having one’s personal physiotherapist for a day or two should not have impacted her performance at the Games.

The 26-year-old Asian Games gold medallist was the top seed in the women’s 53kg freestyle event but had sounded the alarm bells a day before the inauguration of the Games since her physio was not allowed to travel with her. But WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar retorted on Friday that Vinesh’s performance should not have been affected by the absence of her regular physio, Purnima Ngomdir.

Ek aadha din mein koi farak nahi padta ke physio na ho toh perform nahi kar sakte mat pe (a physio not being there for a day makes no difference to the performance on the mat),” he told The Indian Express on Friday.

“There were many physios there. It’s no such thing that your own physio will know where the problem is. XYZ, everyone can help. The federation knew that if a player can’t perform at their best, they will put an allegation that ‘my physio was not sent, my coach was not sent…’ Last year, she was given everything she asked for – sab suvidhaye diya tha.”

In all, the seven-member contingent of four women and three men grapplers was provided just one physio, Brajesh Kumar.

Crying foul

Phogat’s run at the Olympics ended in the quarterfinal on August 5 when she lost by ‘fall’ to Belarussian grappler Vanesa Kaladzinskaya. Her distress at Ngomdir not being granted Olympic accreditation was evident on July 22 itself.

“Is it a crime to ask for one physiotherapist for four women wrestlers when there are instances of one athlete having multiple coaches/staff? Where is the balance,” she had said in a post on social media.

In Tokyo, the Indian shooting contingent’s physio Zeinia Samar was later assigned to Phogat. But the familiarity factor between athlete and physio, especially at a high-pressure event like the Olympics, remained unfulfilled.

“I was reducing weight. I was my own physio and I was the wrestler. I was assigned a physio from the shooting team. She did not understand my body. My sport has very specific demands,” Phogat wrote in a column for this newspaper on Friday.

“She couldn’t help me with what my regular physio used to. Last day, when I am reducing weight, am I supposed to explain things to her on how things are done in wrestling, or focus on myself? It’s unfair on both of us…

“I had not eaten the day before the bout. I drank some nutrition (drinks) but I felt anxious. I woke up with a feeling of vomiting but I could not. I was in pain. There was nothing in my body. Ultimately, I did vomit. On the bus ride to the stadium, I called Purnima asking her desperately what I could do.”

Rules in play

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules mandated a cap on support staff – 33 per cent of the athletes in each discipline per country – based on which Tomar explained the wrestling team was provided only one physio.

“At an international event where a team goes, the federation doesn’t send a personal physio. For an event like the Olympics, we need accreditation. The number of players who qualify, we get only 33 percent of that for support staff.

“Vinesh wanted her physio, but it would not be possible to send every wrester’s personal physio and coach,” Tomar argued.

“Humare jab 10 wrestler hote hai tab usme bhi ek physio se ho jata (Even when we have a team of 10 wrestlers, one physio is good enough).”

Additionally, Tomar explained that WFI president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh pulled strings while in Tokyo.

“We got approval for her coach as well. He was a Hungarian accredited coach, Woller Akos, but we wrote to the world body and they allowed us to have him there provided he’s dressed in an Indian uniform. So even that was done. But physio would have been very difficult,” he said.

No end to trouble

Shortly after the Games, the WFI slapped a ban on Vinesh citing three charges – she didn’t train, or stay with the Indian team, and didn’t wear the official Indian uniform for her matches.

The last charge remains legitimate. Phogat, however, explained that she stayed away from the team for the first few days since she had not been tested regularly for Covid-19, and did not want to pose a threat to the team in case she contracted the virus.

“Since I got Covid-19 the first time (August 2020), I can’t digest protein. One year and I have had no protein in my body. It doesn’t stay inside. When I came back from Kazakhstan after the Asian Championships, I fell ill again. I tested positive for the second time, (and) a few days later, my family back home tested positive,” she wrote in the column.

“When these things have happened, why will I stay with the Indian team? They were tested every day for seven days. I wasn’t. What if I got it on the flight and infected them? I was, in fact, thinking about them and wanted to stay away for two-three days to be sure that they were not at risk. What’s the big deal? After two-three days, I was going to join them and even began training with Seema (Bisla). So, there’s no question of me not being a team player.

“I always invest in the team. I train with the same girls.”

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