India managed to bag just two medals at Rio Olympics 2016, in contrast to six in London four years ago. Despite the nation sending it's largest ever contingent for any Olympic Games till date, India's venture in the Brazilian city left a lot to ponder about.
Athletes from various disciplines like shooting, boxing, wrestling and tennis who were touted as medal prospects at the start of the sporting extravaganza couldn't quite do justice to their abilities in Rio, moreover, India only managed to make it to just one final in athletics events, despite having over 30 participants. The result, a low-key return for India in Rio.
However, the nation has been celebrating it's top performers like PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar hwo were on Monday awarded the Khela Ratna. The two medal-winners along with Dipa, have seen a huge amount of cash windfall, scooping up awards worth crores.
In that light, the stunning revelation made by OP Jaisha - a two-time Asian Games bronze medal-winning long distance runner - goes a long way in exposing the parity between the treatment our country dishes out in times of their glory as compared to when they are actually sweating hard to achieve success.
"I could have died there", said a distraught Jaisha as she recalled the women's marathon event at Rio Olympics during which she claimed she was not provided any water and energy drinks by the officials despite designated stations being given for India.
Jaisha took thirteen minutes more than what she took at the World Championships a year ago to complete the marathon in Rio. Moreover, Jaisha collapsed at the end of the run, lying helpless until fellow runner in the Men's event Gopi T and his coach rushed in to help. The Kerala-born athlete further disclosed to the English daily that it took her further two-three hours to regain consciousness.
"It was very hot there. The competition was at 9am, I ran in scorching heat. There was no water for us, neither recovery drinks nor food. Only once in 8kms did we get water (from the Rio organisers) which did not help at all. All the countries had their stalls at every 2kms but our country's stall was empty," said Jaisha who finished 89th in women's marathon event with a below-par timing of 2:47:19.
As per the regulations of the IAAF, it is the duty of the federation and coach to deploy officials with the necessary refreshments, as an athlete can't consume refreshments from desks of other contingents which might lead to disqualification. So the Indian runners had to rely only on the refreshments provided by the organisers which, according to the runner, lasted only 550m.
"We are supposed to be given drinks by our technical officials, it's the rule. We cannot take water from any other team. I saw the Indian board there but there was nothing. I had a lot of problem, I fainted after the race. I was administered glucose, I thought I would die," she recalled.
The runner claimed that she got no response from officials when she asked why water was not provided to her at the stalls.
"I asked officials why there was no water for us but I got no response. I don't know what they were doing. There were a lot of people in the Indian athletics contingent, anybody could have done this job," Jaisha told Times Now.
"I don't know where they were. I was in very bad shape.
However, Jaisha's comments received contrasting reply from AFI, who on its part, said that Indian officials in Rio were not told by the athletes or their coaches about any specific requirement of any drinks.
"It is the responsibility of the organisers to provide water and energy drinks. For that there are water and energy stations throughout the course. We could have provided water and energy drinks to our athletes but neither they nor their coaches did not inform us that they would need water and energy drinks separately," AFI Secretary C K Valson, who was also in Rio during the competitions, told PTI.
However, when it came to the Sports ministry, Sports Minsiter Vijay Goel said it was the Athletics Federation of India's (AFI) responsibility, thus backing Jaisha's claims.
"Every time any small incident happens, we take note. It was AFI's job, it is the federation which should have taken care of this," he said.
The athlete on her part said she has no clue who to hold responsible for the fiasco.
"I don't know who to blame for this. May be nobody realises the seriousness of a marathon, the fact that we have to run 42kms," she said.
There will most likely be no return to the Olympics for Jaisha considering her age, and the treatment met to nation's national record holder at her swansong Games just goes to show the pathetic state of Indian sports.
So our girls running the marathon had no one to give them water during the race. The Indian desk at the race was unmanned. #Pathetic
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) August 22, 2016
Maybe, we need to probe this? Maybe a few answers there? pic.twitter.com/p4LeQEvKkR
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) August 22, 2016
A probe may or may not provide the answers as to why water wasn't provided to our runners when required, but failure to do so is symbolic to the reason why India has failed to translate it's potential into a medal at an Olympics yet again.
Yes; the ministers, officials and celebrities have poured in the rewards for the athletes but those in charge must realise that Indian sport today needs more than just monetary appreciation. While the recipients of those lucrative awards are highly deserving, it's a real shame that some of our athletes aren't being provided with water, especially in one of the most grueling sports at the Games.
While it's equally important to celebrate and reward our athletes after the Games, it's even more vital that they are held in that high regard throughout the gap between two Olympics and not just for a fortnight after the Games. India needs to cut it's fickleness. If we are proud about the two medals we won in Rio, failing to provide our athletes with basic facilities like water should be considered as a failure of equal magnitude. It just doesn't bring shame to our nation, but also brings about a great disregard to our athletes. If this continues, there will be little surprise if our medal tally shrinks further in Tokyo in four years time.
With inputs from PTI