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You know that the build up to the Asian Games has begun when a fresh slew of controversy begins to haunt the world of Indian sports. Most recently, it is the Yachting Association of India (YAI) that has been caught in the crosshairs with consecutive issues grabbing the limelight. A few weeks ago it was the issue of India’s National Sailing Coach resigning citing discrepancies regarding his salary. Now, one of India’s prominent sailors has alleged an inconsistency in the selection process for the Asian Games just a few days before the last date for submission of entries. Varsha Gautham, an athlete that few would argue about when it comes to her abilities in her sport, was left utterly unmotivated and disgusted after she found out that the tricky wording in the YAI’s selection policy meant that she might not be traveling to Jakarta for the Asian Games after all. Till a couple of weeks back, Varsha and her partner Sweta Shervegar had gone all out right before participating in the Asian Sailing Championships which were held in Jakarta as a test event before the Asian Games. The duo of Varsha and Sweta won a Silver medal in the 49er FX category but the mood to celebrate their success took a damper after they realised the direction in which things were developing. Apparently, their achievements at the Sailing Championships did not mater because an Annual General Meeting within the top-brass of the YAI had decided that the tournament in Jakarta did not count. Not just Varsha and Sweta, but apparently the entire sailing contingent had been under the impression that this Sailing Championship would be the last try for getting selected for an Asian Games berth- at the end of it, it seemed that everyone was harboring under the same misconception. "The selection policy of the Federation said that there will be one event in Chennai from where two teams will be selected to go to the Asian Sailing Championships," said a visibly irritated Varsha in a conversation with The Bridge. "It continued with the following directive that the best team in the Sailing Championships would be sent to the Asian Games." Varsha is referring to the selection policy where, Article 9.2 states that the 'results of the Asian Sailing Championships would be provided to the internal and external selectors so as to select the best athletes/teams to represent India at the Asian Games 2018.' "The wording of this is quite confusing," Varsha added. "We were under the impression that a good finish at the Sailing Championship would mean that our names would at least be considered for the final list of participants for the Asian Games." "We worked hard, we won a Silver. It was the best finish in the tournament. Now we are told that it does not count and that there was some sort of miscommunication." According to Varsha, the Annual General Meeting that involved the YAI top brass had decided on just "one event" that would act as the qualifiers for the Asian Games. This decision was made known to the athletes while they were still competing in Jakarta in the Championships and it has been a disappointment for them all. The event in Chennai being talked about was held in April. It yielded the names of Ekta Yadav and Shaila Charls as potential participants for the Asiads. The duo of Yadav and Charls, however, finished third in the recently concluded Championships in Jakarta, the same place that Varsha and Sweta bagged a Silver in. "This email communication from the YAI was the only information we received about the AGM. This email was sent to us on the day that we reached Jakarta for the Championships. It directed all the people who had finished first in the trials in Chennai to send our names for entries to the Asian Games because the IOA had given the YAI a particular deadline that they had to meet." "All of us immediately wrote back asking for the submission of entries to be put on hold until the Asian Sailing Championships results came through. If they want to send the best possible team and if this tournament had an effect on the selection process as was specified earlier, wasn't it a bit premature for the names to be sent before the Championships even began?" Varsha questions.
What is the point of making these decisions behind closed doors: asks Varsha Gautham"How is it fair that everyone going into the Asian Sailing Championships thought that it would make a difference on whether or not they would go to the Asiads and then they suddenly drop the bomb saying that we had understood wrong all along," she said. It might be prudent to remember here that Varsha Gautham, along with her teammate N Aishwarya had finished with a Bronze at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon. Following that, the two had been put on the Government's Target Olympic Podium Scheme in preparation for the 2016 Olympics held at Rio but, according to Varsha, it has been a long time that she had to look for private funding when it came to paying for her training and her coach. The YAI's side of the story, however, has been slightly different. They made it clear that they had maintained all along that the trials held in Chennai would be the only event counted. The Asian Sailing Championships was merely to be seen as a reaffirmation of the fact that whether those selected from Chennai were good enough to represent India at the Asian Games. According to Ajay Narang, an official of the YAI as quoted by the Deccan Herald, a top six finish was needed from the people who qualified in Chennai. Since Ekta Yadav and Shaila Charls finished third in the Championships, their selection was valid. On her part, Varsha says differently. "We were told that the top 2 from Chennai would go for the Asian Championships and the top sailors from there would go for the Asiads," she said
"Things are bleak. There seems to be nothing we can do at the moment. We have written to the IOA. We will be writing to Clean Sports India. We have also been trying to get a stay order on this but even if we get a court hearing, it's not going to be before the 30th which is the last official date for sending the entries for the Asian Games," a dejected Varsha Gautham said.
A couple of questions here. If the Asian Sailing Championships had any bearing on the selection process at all, even if it was to reaffirm the results of the earlier trials, why did the YAI insist on sending the names as entries to the Asiads before the athletes even had a chance to participate in the Championships.
Secondly, is saying that there was a "miscommunication" enough to absolve the YAI of responsibility in the issue when so many athletes were allegedly confused by the wording of the selection policy?
"We are the ones who sail. We are the ones who fight to achieve the level of glory for India. People sitting in their offices behind closed doors do not seem to understand how difficult things get when you play around with futures of athletes like this." Varsha's plea is certainly a valid one. At the end of the day, any decision that goes in favour of India doing well at a major multi sport event is all that matters. However, if a selection policy has been put in place, it is the duty of the Federation to make sure it adheres to it. Add this dispute to the already growing list of spats between athletes and federations in the months leading up to the Asian Games.
"Lately, it has been this way that athletes and sailors who achieve success do so 'in spite of the Federation' instead of 'because of the Federation'," she added.