Kanchanmala Pande case is another example of athletes provoking public sentiment with half-truths

It is not Kanchanmala Pande’s fault that there were only two competitors vying for medals in the S11 class of the 200m Individual Medley competition at IDM Berlin 2017 Para Swimming World Series in Berlin. There is no doubt that the brave and hardworking 27-year-old from Nagpur richly deserves the silver medal she got for herself and the country.

Yet, it is disturbing that she succeeded in creating the impression that she was not only left for fend for herself but also had to ‘beg and borrow’ in an alien land. Disturbing because she knew when she left India in pursuit of IPC World Championship qualification standard times that she had to bear her own expenses and await reimbursement on return to India.

The fire that has raged on webspace, TV channels and newspapers reminded us of the time after the Olympic Games when marathoner OP Jaisha claimed she would have died because she did not have even a drop of water to drink during the race run on a hot morning in Rio de Janiero. Jaisha said — without basing it on facts — that there was no water or food for her during the gruelling race.

Kanchanmala Pande. Image courtesy: Facebook/Vinod Deshmukh

Kanchanmala Pande. Image courtesy: Facebook/Vinod Deshmukh

Another current example is the demand made by the National Rifle Association of India’s newly elected Senior Vice-President Kalikesh Singh Deo, BJD MP from Bolangir in Odisha, seeking exemption of GST for 'renowned shooters' when importing under Ministry of Finance notification 146/94. It comes as odd since some shooters have allegedly sold guns at escalated prices.

It is imperative that athletes or officials portray the complete picture when they bare their hearts to a mediaperson. Mediapersons must verify all the sensational and emotional claims made by athletes and officials before telling a story. And sports leaders, especially former athletes, must do some due diligence before putting out 140 characters in public domain.

To return to Kanchanmala’s apparent claim that she had to “beg and borrow in Berlin”, I do not condone any lapse by Paralympic Committee of India (PCI). I do not hold a brief for sports officials. My intention is here to look at how athletes provoke public sentiment – and move the Government – and how often the media falls for the lure of a sensational story.

Should the fact that the PCI had apparently thrown its hands up in the air and said that it could not provide any advance to the swimmers and officials who were due to go to Berlin have been brought into public domain before departure? Perhaps, some Good Samaritan corporate would have sponsored her trip.

From the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’ statement that it released Rs 3.21 lakh as 75 per cent as advance payment (for the official team of five swimmers, an escort and a coach), it becomes clear that the total amount (Rs 4.28 lakh) that sanctioned by the Ministry to PCI for the Berlin event was less than the money Kanchanmala had taken as loan from her employer, Reserve Bank of India.

If is it is true that Kanchanmala Pande borrowed Rs 5 lakh for her trip to Berlin, why did she have to “beg and borrow” in the German city? Had she spent in excess of Rs 5 lakh? Or did she have to borrow for the specific purpose of paying fine for ticketless travel since he may not have had the money on her person.

Some other questions surface:

Was the athlete aware of the fact that the PCI — for whatever reason — was unable to disburse her any money before she left for Berlin? If she was, why did she not carry adequate money with her, especially if she had taken a Rs 5-lakh loan from her employer?

Did the PCI inform the athlete, formally or otherwise, beforehand that she would have to spend her own money and be reimbursed only on return? If so, when did the PCI inform her?

Did the organisers of IDM Berlin 2017 make no local transport arrangements for the participants to commute from hotel to venue and back?

Why would an athlete board a tram and risk ticketless travel if she did not have money for the fare? Was the athlete’s attendant also on the same tram and if she was, did she pay her fare on the journey?

Did the athlete compete in the 50m breaststroke or the 100m breaststroke event?

Some answers are readily available:

A visit to the official website provides responses to two questions. The entry list does show Kanchanmala as having been entered in four events, including 50m breaststroke but the results of races reveal that she took part in her 100m breaststroke and not in the shorter sprint besides 100m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 200m Individual Medley.

The other answer that can be had on that website is the fact that the organiser appears to have provided a shuttle service between hotels and competition venue. So why was a tram journey needed at all?

Sadly, for sports officials, they will have to deal with each one of them being painted with the same brush and in dark colours – selfish, evil, deceptive, fraudulent, conniving, corrupt and, above all, apathetic to the needs of the athletes. They appear to be losing the battle of perceptions every single time they come in focus.

Perhaps it is time for the Ministry to find a redressal mechanism for issues within Sports Federations to be dealt with without involving Courts. Indeed it is time for a Sports Regulatory Authority of India to ensure that athletes do not have to face any trouble because a Court-appointed signatory is not available to sanction the release of funds at the right time.


Published Date: Jul 14, 2017 09:38 am | Updated Date: Jul 19, 2017 09:30 am