Sticky wicket in India: Masters caught in overseers’ civil war
India’s masters track scene is more dysfunctional than I thought. It appears that Jerry D’Souza’s Veterans Athletics Federation of India is vying for power with the Masters Athletics Federation of India, known as MAFI. Power to do what? To send athletes to WMA world championships. In a second interview with Jerry, also conducted by email, I learned that athletes belonging to VAFI “are not accepted by AMA and WMA.” So no matter how good they are, he says, they can’t represent India at worlds. His counterpart in MAFI is David Premnath, who is active in disabled sports and other events. But David has a checkered past in masters, according to this newspaper report from August 2001. (Scroll down to “Athlete’s tough ‘run’ to Brisbane”)
Jerry tells me: “Athletes who are members of VAFI do not approach MAFI as their behaviour is liked by many outstanding athletes. Good and outstanding athletes therefore lost chance to participate at the Asian and World Championships.”
So how do Indian athletes join the national team for worlds?
According to Jerry: “Selection trials are conducted by MAFI. . . . But performance is not the only criteria they adopt. They select any person even without proper skill. . . . MAFI are favored by Athletic Federation of India for reasons best known to them. We (VAFI) have already sought affiliation with AMA, but so far not considered. We have already made known the facts to AMA and WMA as to how MAFI has been formed and come into existence. It is only because of affiliation of MAFI (that) some athletes have stayed back with them. Otherwise, all are willing to join us. Selfless persons are with me and still the number is growing.”
Jerry says MAFI is the official WMA affiliate for India, but he’s challenging that right, having “given certain suggestions” to Hari Chandra, secretary of Asia Masters Athletics.
In any case, here’s a story about one Indian athlete’s experience at 2001 Brisbane worlds, as reported in The Tribune newspaper of Chandigarh. I boldfaced the section that hints of pay-to-play expectations:
Athlete’s tough ‘run’ to Brisbane
Arvind Katyal Chandigarh, August 11, 2001
The ‘run’ for ace veteran athlete Ms Bhupinder Banta Singh for the XIV World Veterans Athletic Championship was quite cumbersome, thanks to the mismanaged means adopted by the Veterans Amateur Athletic Federation of India.
It may be recalled that ms Banta Singh at 73 was the national record holder when she clocked 17.01 seconds in 100 metres, in the last Nationals. It was also an Asian record. she experienced the long and troublesome journey to Brisbane, Australia, where the above meet was held from July 4 to 14.
She was picked as the only woman from north India for the 100-metre event. The selection was done more than six months before the actual start of the meet. However the nightmare began when the Federation asked her to shell out Rs (rupees) 46,000.
This amount-included the entry fee (Rs 3000), visa charges including airport tax (Rs 3000), blazer and sport kit (Rs 4000) and Rs 36000 as air fare. Interestingly, the complete sports kit minus the short and bottom of track suits was given to her on July 6 when her event was over. Ms Banta singh said the departure to Brisbane was also hanky panky.
Instead of asking us to board the Delhi-Brisbane flight costing 30 per cent less, the federation officials planned the flight from Chennai to Brisbane. When she checked up at one of the local airline office, she was told that by Singapore airlines, the total fare would be Rs 30.130 and by Malaysian airlines Rs 30,080.
Moreover she said there were 50 persons in a group, so every airline normally offers one ticket free for a 10-member group. She explained how the local coordinator of the national federation Mr Charanpreet Verma, deliberately delayed the things.
She recalled how on June 30, she and two others from Punjab were told that since only four athletes had been granted visas by the Australian consulate, they would have to reach Mumbai to plead the case of the remaining athletes to the Embassy.
After reaching Delhi at 5 am on July 1, they took the train for Mumbai having no reservation. She said further said the Secretary General of the VAAFI, Mr David Premnath, had asked us to be in Mumbai by July 2. But he himself arrived on July 3 from Bangalore.
As a result visas were delayed for many athletes who finally could not go, through they had deposited the money with the federation. She said since they were having visas and ticket, they boarded the flight and finally reached Brisbane on July 5 a day after the official meet began.
Ms Banta Singh said she was not allowed to take part in her original event., 100 metres, in which she had an Asian record. she was asked to compete in the 200 metres. though the hosts were apologetic but said they could not do any thing at that moment.
She said even CP Singh of Chandigarh did not make efforts and said that as he had come as a contestant, he could not lodge a protest. She said the majority of the contestants were interested in sight-seeing and paid less attention on their competition.
Ms Banta Singh said all the above hurdles posed by the VAAFI was not good for athletics. At present the federation is headed by Mr Umrao Singh.
According to the WMA Constitution, “All masters/veterans shall be eligible to compete in any masters athletics competition. No master/veteran shall be refused entry on ground of race, religion, politics, nationality or place of residence.”
It’s understood that an athlete has to be a member in good standing of their national federation to attend WMA meets. Americans have to be members of USATF, for example. But affiliates are meant to encourage participation, not control or limit it.
I’ve written to David Premnath, General Secretary of MAFI, for his response to issues raised in these reports.