Late last night, Badminton ace and Indian Olympian Saina Nehwal went on a furious tirade against the authorities for a reason, which at first glance seems completely legitimate. According to her, her father was denied entry into the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village at the last moment. As per the statements she made publicly on her Twitter handle, the “team official” status that her father was believed to carry was revoked at the last moment. Furthermore, she was not made privy to the change until the badminton contingent reached the Athletes Village in Gold Coast.
Surprise to see that when we started from India for commonwealth games 2018 my father was confirmed as the team official and I paid the whole amount for that but when we came to the games village … his name was cut from team official category .. and he can’t even stay with me .
— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) April 2, 2018
As if a simple outburst on Twitter was not enough for the Olympic Bronze medalist, she took an even more extreme step which can only be classified as underhand and petty. In an email to the IOA, most possibly to Chef de Mission Vikram Sisodia, Saina Nehwal threatened to pull out of the Commonwealth Games if her father was not given proper accommodation.
Two things need to be verified here
According to the website of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), there have so far been four revised lists naming the entire contingent who have been officially authorized to travel to Gold Coast by the organization. The reason for so many revisions is that the lists needed to be cleared by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) before their arrangement could have been made by the IOA in coordination with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF).
However, if one takes a look at all the four official lists which have been published by the IOA so far, there have been several changes. For one, the number of accompanying IOA officials significantly decreases as we move from List 1 to List 4. Through all this, however, the status of Saina’s father as an “Extra Official” remains unchanged.
So why did the shuttler take to Twitter to publicly declare her father as a team official when he clearly never was one? According to the Publicly available first version of the Gold Coast 2018 Handbook, “Athletes, Team Officials and Games Family members
arriving in Cairns and Townsville will be offered a pre-booked service” for arrivals and departures only. In fact, the IOA even took to social media to post a screenshot of the Second Version of the Chef de Mission Handbook, page 37 of which clearly states that the accreditation for an “Extra Official” may allow said person access to the Village Residential and International areas. However, this does not cover a travel grant and a guaranteed accommodation in the Commonwealth Games village.
Dear @NSaina , Mr. Harvir Singh is an accredited Extra Official! As stated in the CDM Manual of Gold Coast 2018 CWG and repeatedly conveyed to BAI, the payment for accreditation of Extra Official does not include bed in the Games Village. pic.twitter.com/cuafVeKxwr
— IOA – Team India (@ioaindia) April 3, 2018
How this works is that a specific number of beds are set aside for Indian athletes. Extra officials may claim them on a first come first served basis. There had been widespread speculation and reports that Vijaya Pusarla, PV Sindhu’s mother, had been granted a bed in the village. Superficially speaking, that would have made Saina’s frustration at the authorities completely justified. However, that is far from the case.
While PV Sindhu and her mother arrived early at the Games Village, it was quite easy for the latter to be given accommodation. Furthermore, as per the rules, PV Sindhu’s mother would have been allowed to stay with her given that they are both women. But Saina’s father staying in the same accommodation as his daughter would have been a violation. It has now been learnt that post-Saina Nehwal’s blackmail and threatening email, Harvir Singh has now been granted accommodation in the Games Village.
What is also clear is that some member of the contingent had to be removed from the Village to accommodate Harvir.
— Srinivasan Kannan (@kannandelhi) April 3, 2018
We spoke to another Badminton player in the Commonwealth Games Village who had a different take on the issue. The said Badminton player had applied for the accreditation of a family member as early as March 3rd just so that they would be able to watch the matches which was denied. Does the IOA now give differential treatment to athletes specifically proportionate to their star factor?
The cap on the number of extra officials here may have prevented the Indian Olympic Association from taking along more family members to the Games. According to the list, the only two “extra officials” who are family members are Harvir Singh and Vijaya Pusarla- the mother of Rio Olympics Silver medalist PV Sindhu.
But this is all speculation and hearsay. What we know for certain is that Saina Nehwal’s outburst on social media and consequent blackmail is yet another example of athletes trying to swing the popular vote towards them by completely changing the narrative and distorting the facts. Perhaps the two best examples of this in recent times have been that of para-swimmer Kanchanmala Pande and marathon runner OP Jaisha who, on two different occasions, have alleged official neglect in circumstances where there were none.
It is, however, heartening to see another Olympian, Abhinav Bindra, calling Saina Nehwal out on her attempt at spreading an unjustified outrage. India’s lone Individual Olympic Gold medalist went on record to tell Saina that, as an Olympian, she should be more aware of the rules- a point which we could not have put better ourselves.
Am sure as a member of the @olympics Athletes committee you are well aware of accreditation protocols. Wishing you all the best for the CWG.
— Abhinav Bindra OLY (@Abhinav_Bindra) April 2, 2018
What is it about social media that makes people with influence think they can misuse it to forward their own falsities? The power and reach that comes with it is definitely one of the perks. In this case, a woman, one who is widely hailed as a National hero because of her prowess in her particular field of play, decided to undermine a major rule to garner public sympathy.
So far, the attempt seems to have worked. But it is important that the record is set straight and this underhand method brought to light.