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.

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October 2, 2009

5 Responses

  1. Dr Rohinton Mehta - November 8, 2009

    Dear Ken,
    I am Dr. Rohinton Mehta, an in-house lawyer with one of India’s largest multinationals and an Indian Masters athlete aged 49, competing for the last 13 years and am a specialist 400 mtrs hurdler. Last month, I won the World Masters Games 400 mtrs hurdles GOLD with a timing of 64.44 secs.
    What Gerald Dsouza (Jerry) has said is indeed correct. Because of the fight between the MAFI and the VAFI, the athletes, including me, have suffered. I was unable to represent my country at the Asian Masters (where I was a sure shot GOLD medal bet- the winner clocked 69 secs!) and the World Masters in Lahti.
    You ask “power to do what?” I will tell you… 1. power to organise meets and garner sponsorships in the name of the Federation
    2. Power to be at the helm of the Federation for purposes other than the betterment of athletes.
    3. Power to appease their own inflated egos.
    4. Power to subjugate athletes to their own whims and fancies
    5. Power to attend international sports conferences and international Federation meetings at the cost of the Indian Federation
    6. Power to arm twist and coerce athletes with false information on International Meets (e.g. athletes are told that to be able to represent India you need to come in the top two in India-this is a complete falsehood. The AMA is very clear that there is nothing like a qualification standard and any athlete has the right to compete, and not merely two from each country. This is evident from the AMA results which will show that in most events there are 5-6 competitors from a particular country. In fact, I’ve observed this myself having run two Asians – in Bangkok and Bangalore).
    I am not for a moment taking sides or stating that either VAFI or MAFI are better than the other but the infighting has cost Masters Athletics in India dearly. Athletes have been coerced not to run in the meets organised by the rival Federation. What right does any one have to tell me or any other Indian athlete which athletic meet I can compete in? The Federation does NOTHING for us. The Federation exists because of the athletes. The Indian athletes have performed admirably not because of the Federations but despite them and their mediocrity. We athletes run on our own legs and on the dint of hard work that we have put in without any appreciation, help, motivation from the Federation.
    It is high time that this cheap squabbling ends, as the only casualty is Indian athletics. In my opinion, if the two warring factions decide not to bury the hatchet and come to a negotiated compromise solution, then it would be much better if the Asian Masters Association and the WMA recognise either both Indian Federations or allow Indian Athletes from either Federation to compete in AMA and WMA competitions. After all, the AMA and WMA have propogation of Masters Athletics at the core of their heart and anything, anyone or any entity that stiffles and/ or makes difficult participation of Master athletes in Masters Meet must be immediately addressed. Once the two warring Federations realise that they have no control over the athletes, they will immediately seek a solution themselves. This will be in the overall benefit of Indian Masters Athletics.
    Stalwarts like you must use all your powers – personal, administrative, political to ensure that this is achieved. Enough is Enough. This crazy fight must end and sooner rather than later.
    yours in the name of athletics,
    Dr. Rohinton Mehta

  2. Dr. Gurmeet singh - December 6, 2009

    dear Ken,
    I am an associate professor in panjab university and secratary, chandigarh vetarans and promoting athletics in chandigarh and punjab, Sir jerry is right , we suffers lot because of those people who involve in MAFI, as they aren’t promoting athletics but they earn money from it and make it their buisness decive innocent veteran athletes who want to participate in international competitions and under the name of MAFI they sent non- athletes to abroad and earn huge money. The case still pending in Bangalore high court.
    Now, international masters athletics federation can do something for the welfare of masters athletes in India and ask MAFI secratary to resign as lots of resentment against him and his team are going on and Jerry and his team doing well and lots of good athletes are attached wtih VAFI and participating in national competitions organised by VAFI .
    I must request WMA and AMA to please look this matter seriously, other wise a day come when athletes will not participate or less participation will be there. Mr. Ken you must send this msg. to other masters athletics bodies.
    with regards,

  3. anonymous - December 21, 2009

    Dear Ken,
    while running thru internet I found this site and read your article. Athletics in India is in a total mess. People unrelated with sports are heading the organisations in most cases and some of them with sports background are swindling money making the genunine athlete suffer. I’am shocked that there are two organisations representing masters athletics in India. The publicity is so bad that we do not come to know of the events being held. I have been running since almost 20 years and now feel that I have lost many opportunities in distance running where I would have definitely excelled. You are right in mentioning that “Good and outstanding athletes therefore lost chance to participate at the Asian and World Championships.”

  4. satish - January 5, 2010

    Jerry and his team doing well and lots of good athletes are attached with VAFI and participating in national competitions organized by VAFI.national competitions are well organized & Jerry sar give a new platform to veterans athlete & arrange international tournament’s very high class. all in that Jerry is the best.

  5. Jason - January 8, 2010

    My father (Gerald D’souza a.k.a Jerry)is an honest man and a social worker and the secretory general of VAFI. He is passionate about sports and has come up in life because of it. He sets standards in whatever he does and moreover does it passionately. I hope VAFI becomes the official masters sporting body in India very soon. We would be launching an online campaign very soon on VAFI’s official site.

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