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Saina Nehwal subjected to medical ignorance? Tough to comprehend why 2 radiologists were taken to Rio

Athletes from India's Rio 2016 Olympic contingent talk about the medical problems they faced in the Games village.

Vinesh Phogat being treated by the IOC medic after her injury

After every edition of the Olympics, the apathy of Indian sporting administrators comes to the fore amid much outrage and criticism. However, their consistent ignorance throughout the year often goes under the radar, because of the lack of attention it receives from the public as well as the media.

Incidents such as the electrical failure which saw a power shortage at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, resulting in a cancelled Olympic qualification, or when pole vaulter Shaji Shani was left unattended with a fractured knee for more than an hour at the Junior Federation Cup, were indicative of a potential logistical collapse in the making. The 2016 Rio Olympics were no different, with floating allegations of ministers/officials treating the mecca of all sporting events as a paid holiday.

The most striking among all the dubious information that has been unearthed is the inclusion of Pawandeep Singh, son of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Vice President Tarlochan Singh, as the contingent’s radiologist. He was officially assigned the designation of Chief Medical Officer (CMO), but athletes have revealed to Sportskeeda that his knowledge about sports medicine is far below par.

The second doctor from the team, holding the assistant's position, was Col. R S Negi, also a radiologist – and one who has never even attended a national sporting meet. Hence, the 120-strong Indian squad was left without a sports medicine expert, exposing them to potential injuries without professional guidance for recovery. Even Negi has a family connection within Indian sport; he is a distant cousin of IOA Secretary General Rajeev Mehta.

A very basic question arises here: why were two radiologists sent to Rio, when that spot in the team should ideally have gone to a sports medicine expert? 

An athlete, who didn’t want to reveal his/her identity said, “While training the first two days, I picked up a knock on my right knee. My coach asked me to visit the Chief Medical Officer, so I went within an hour of the injury. I was offered painkillers but no solution to the problem.

“On visting Pawandeep in the evening, I was told that my injury was completely fine. I resumed my normal training, but the next morning my pain aggravated even more. I then visited the International Olympic Council (IOC) doctor, who said that I had suffered a minor injury, but if I trained further it would have been aggravated. If I didn’t go to the IOC officials on that day, I would most likely miss my event due to injury.”

Even Saina Nehwal wasn't given appropriate medical attention

The biggest ouster due to an unexpected injury was India’s  number one shuttler Saina Nehwal, who damaged her knee prior to her short Rio tenure. However, sources have confirmed that even Saina had approached the Indian contingent’s medical team to resolve the issue.

The unnamed athlete added, “I know for a fact that Saina was feeling really uneasy about her injury post her first match against the Brazilian. She immediately rushed to the CMO, to talk about her inflammation. However, unhappy with the way they were approaching the problem, she approached the IOC about the problem. Saina is not someone who leaves anything to chance, so she didn’t hesitate when she saw apprehension.”

This is one among numerous accounts about the treatment procedure that we received from athletes staying at the village. In fact, as per sources, even when Vinesh Phogat suffered a horrific leg twist, the CMO wasn’t available for the next seven hours to treat the injury.

Of course, the poignant question to ask here is that even aside from their gross unprofessionalism in being unavailable when needed, would their presence have guaranteed any solution to the problem, considering their lack of knowledge in sports medicine?

On being asked this question, Vice President Tarlochan Singh said, “My son doesn’t come from an undeducated background, you know? He has studied sports medicine in Germany, and also held this position during the South Asian Games. He is also a member of the Commonwealth Games medical commission. What more does he need?

“He also knows the psychology of an athlete, he was the Indian national polo team Captain. But if you’re asking about why a specific sports medicine expert wasn’t sent, you have to ask the President, or you can ask Rajeev Mehta, he might be able to give you insight.”

The old buck-passing process seems to be full flow with regard to this question. On approaching Rajeev Mehta, I was diverted to Chef de Mission Rakesh Gupta, who was at the venue when all the incidents happened. The buck unfortunately stopped at India's Chef de Mission, who was unavailable for a comment.

The Army Institute of Sports (ASI) has a history of sports medicine pracitioners accompanying their athletes for tournaments across the globe. Despite the plethora of talent available, Col. Negi, a radiologist from INSH Ashwani with no prior sporting experience, was selected ahead of established doctors.

Another athlete experience highlights the sheer depth of the ignorance from the team ‘doctors'. “I was down with a wrist injury, so much so that I could hardly move my hand. Upon reaching the CMO, I was given Combiflam. I immediately asked isn’t this unhealthy for me during the competition. To which I was given a reply, ‘Yeh sab banai baatein hotey hai, dard jana chahiye bas,’ (All this is non-sense, the goal should be to reduce pain). After that I realised that I had a higher chance of  damaging myself than rehabilitation here.”

How do two doctors, with decades of experience between them, fail to comprehend  that painkillers only delay the problem and not solve it? The IOA has been tight-lipped about this question, avoiding it at every chance.

If the athletes’ experiences are anything to go by, India’s medical team at the Rio Olympics was thoroughly incompetent, and could have potentially put the careers of 120 national heroes at risk. Who's accountable for that?

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