Making sense of the OP Jaisha controversy: Should the Indian officials be blamed?
Apart from a few prodigious performances, it’s safe to say that India’s showing at the Rio Olympics was representative of its systemic administrative failure. The recent revelations by long distance runner O P Jaisha have exposed the deep underbelly of ignorance within the country’s sporting hierarchy even further. According to the two-time Asian Games bronze medallist, her slow timing was due to the lack of water and refreshments provided en-route to the finish.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, she said, “I could’ve basically died out there! During my entire run, I was given water only four times, whereas I need to drink it at least 8-9 times for recovery. I don’t know the exact rules as it’s not my job, but I know every event it is provided 8-9 times, that’s how we fuel ourselves.”
The exact rule violations
After a bit of digging, we unearthed rule 249 (8A) on the IAAF rule book, which clearly states, “An athlete should be provided water and specific refreshments every 5 kms of the race, apart from waste bins and waterstation supplies.” According to Jaisha’s claims, she was served water and refreshments five times lesser than the legally stipulated frequency.
This would explain why she was 13 minutes late to the finish line. It was an uncharacteristic timing for the Kerala athlete, who hadn’t clock this poor a result since 2013.
Apart from the existent water stations provided by the Rio organisers, the IAAF had instructed the national representatives to have refreshment booths every 2.5 kms for any event that’s longer than 10 km as per 249 (8C). Jaisha added, “The booths were designated to India, but most of them were empty. I had to depend on water from the Rio organisers, but they were there every 8 kms. After I crossed the first one I thought they must have assigned it to the stations later. But every station I went to, there was no one.”
The rule also states, “They (refueling stations) shall be placed in an accessible manner, so that it doesn’t affect the athlete’s timing. Refreshments come under the mandate of the officials from the nation’s designated body.” That’s a damning indictment of the Indian officials whichever way you look at it.
On being questioned, a source close to the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) said, “We are aware of the rules, it’s our job to be aware of these rules. We were told by the Rio organisers that they would be providing refreshments, hence we didn’t bother. Also, Jaisha’s coaches didn’t inform us about the specific refreshments, as per the rule you mentioned. If she would have told us beforehand, we would have provided. The Rio organisers are to be blamed for this, we are deeply saddened by what has happened.”
During the race, Jaisha thought of asking another country’s refreshment station for water. But she was refused, and was told that both the country’s participating athletes, along with her, would be disqualified from the race if they helped her.
The rule from section 249 (8E) also states that the refreshments should be forwarded at least 48 hours before the race to the country’s officials. According to Jaisha, this was done two weeks prior to the race. She said, “My coaches had informed AFI officials about the refreshments before going to Rio. I have a specific set of refreshments which comes under my training as well. So both me and my coaches are specific about this. Hence, it’s surprising that they are denying it. I request them to go back and verify this as I can assure you that it was mentioned.”
Another rule, Article 249 (8D), states that “Representatives from the country’s organising commttee must be at these stations. A minimum of two members per station is required to avoid any mishap.” According to Jaisha’s claims, seven booths were present throughout the race track, but none of them had any representatives. In fact, on the fifth station, she had specifically stopped for one minute hoping that water would arrive. However, no one came to her aid.
She added, “Other nations had glucose, honey, gels to fuel the athlete's time, but by the time it was 9 30, I felt like collapsing on the ground itself. But it's the Olympics and you only get a shot once in four years. I had to finish at any cost.”
The Rio Olympic organisers had done their job by providing refreshment stations at the designated spots. However, it was the inability or to a certain extent ignorance of the Indian authorities that they were not stationed in their respective booths.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) response
The Athletics Federaiton of India (AFI) have refuted Jaisha's claims, stating that the other marathon participant Kavita Raut faced no problem. In an official statement, they said, “Each team is allowed to keep their own personalised drinks on the booths, marked in a colour as per the choice of the team and athlete. Accordingly, as per the rule, on the night ahead of women's marathon race, the Indian team manager carried 16 empty bottles, eight each for Jaisha and Kavita Raut, and visited the duo and their coach Nikolai Snesarev in their room.”
AFI added, “The team manager asked them to provide their choice of personalised drink which would then be sealed in their presence and handed over to the organisers for installing them on the booth along with a placard as per the requirement of the athlete. Both Kavita and Jaisha denied any extra refreshments to be present. They also stated that they will use the refreshments provided by the organisers, if needed.”
A source close to the AFI also informed Sportskeeda that Jaisha declined refreshments during the 2015 World Championship in Beijing, China as well.
Even if Jaisha did deny the availability of refreshments, the absence of a manned booth is in direct violation of IAAF section 249 (8D). Also, the fact that an international level athlete has to even bring up such an issue, shows negligence on the part of AFI.
On being asked about this particular rule, AFI said, “We fail to comprehend why Ms Jaisha, who has been nurtured and trained with relentless dedication by the foreign expert and the AFI for years, chose to state incorrect information in her interview to a section of the media.”
To this Jaisha responded, “After I was unconscious for almost three hours, I asked them why there was no water at the stations. I got no proper response. There were almost 50 people travelling with India's athletics contingent, anyone could have done this. I was in very bad shape after that. If they feel I'm wrong, they should introspect on why I set my worst timing in the last three years at the Olympics. You really think I would underperform to this extent on the grandest stage of them all?”
Is a minor probe enough?
India's Sports Minister Vijay Goel has ordered for a probe into this matter, stating that the issue came solely under the jurisdiction of the AFI. He said, “If something like this has happened, it is ignorance on the part of AFI. The Sports Ministry was not aware of this particular situation. A probe has been ordered into this, and if it did happen, adequate action will be taken.”
The undertone of Vijay Goel's statement indicates a passing of the buck, instead of an approach that would actually resolve the issue. Negating the Sports Ministry's involvement seems more important to Mr. Goel than Jaisha’s predicament.
If the AFI are found guilty, they will be charged for as many as five IAAF section violations with the International governing body, with the punishment left to the nation's government.
Earlier this week, India awarded PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar with the Khel Ratna. Justifiably so, because they all produced landmark achievements for women's sport and sport in general. However, if international level athletes such as Jaisha still have to fight for a basic necessity such as water, it highlights something fundamentally wrong with the way sport is being run in the country.
If we continue to treate our athletes like this, we don't have the right to expect anything more than our current medal count.