Top discus thrower Seema Punia’s decision to train in Russia to prepare for the Rio Olympics has left the Athletics Federation of India fuming as that country is now at the centre of an unprecedented doping scandal.
Seema is currently training at Maykop, the capital city of Russian province of Adygea, at the foothills of Caucasus Mountains.
She was seen on social media sites with a Russian coach Vitaliy Pishchalnikov, a former Olympian discus thrower.
The 32-year-old Seema, a 2014 Asian Games gold medallist, said she has informed the Athletics Federation of India and Sports Ministry regarding her training in Russia.
“I have written to NADA, SAI, AFI and chief via e-mail and informed that we are going to train in Russia and we gave them the complete local address in Russia with house number. I will be in Russia till the first week of August and from there will go to Rio,” Seema told PTI from Russia.
Top AFI officials said that she had sent an e-mail that she was planning to train in Russia but she was not given the permission.
“She did write an e-mail to us that she is planning to train in Russia before the Olympics but we have not okayed it. Even before we could reply to that mail, she must be in Russia,” a top AFI official said.
“Russia is a country at the centre of the worst doping scandal and how could she have gone to train there,” he added.
Asked if she took permission from the AFI for her training trip to Russia, Seema said, “I don’t think it’s necessary. The likes of Manpreet Kaur (shot putter), Vikas Gowda (discus thrower) and Inderjeet Singh (shot put) have been training on their own. They don’t come to the national camp and they have their own programmes.
“The cost of this training trip in Russia is from my own pocket. The government gave money under TOP Scheme for the US training stint only and not for this. JSW gave up some help and the remaining is from my pocket,” she said.
Vitaliy Pishchalnikov is the father of Darya Pishchalnikov, who was stripped of her London Olympics silver medal for doping, and American media reports had said that he had offered to become a whistle-blower in the current doping scandal.
“He (Vitaliy Pishchalnikov) is not my coach and I am not training under him. He is just helping us in getting the training facilities, my place of residence for a month here, etc. I have my husband (Ankush Punia) as my coach,” Seema said.
Seema, who has a doping past, also said that she was never issued a notice by the National Anti-Doping Agency for ‘whereabouts’ failure and also insisted that she has not missed a dope test in the run-up to next month’s Rio Olympics.
Seema said there was a case of delay in providing the ‘whereabouts’ details by her but that was due to a wrong password given to her by NADA but she was not issued a notice by the national anti-doping body as has been suggested by media reports.
“There is nothing like I have not given whereabouts information sought by NADA. Please show me any proof of this. I have not got any notice from NADA. Since the time NADA sought information from me under ADAMS, I have given every bit of information to them (NADA),” Punia said.
“I had given test sample on January 1 before going to USA for training. After that also, I had given test samples. I have not missed a dope test nor shied away from giving the whereabouts. There was a case of delay in giving my whereabouts details but that was due to a wrong password given to me by the NADA to fill the ADAMS form.”
“They (NADA) gave me the password of a woman boxer named Seema Poonia who has a different date of birth and I wasted three-four days in working on it. I wrote an e-mail to the NADA with copies to Sports Authority of India, AFI and head coach, saying that the password given to me was wrong. That led to the delay,” she said.
She said she was disturbed and hurt by the speculation that she resisted from giving dope samples by refusing to provide ‘whereabouts’.