While the Cycling Federation of India (faces) wrath following one of India's top female cyclists' alleged serious charges of sexual harassment against national coach R K Sharma that led to his dismissal, former star cyclist Deborah Herold also came out in support of the claim.
Herold, the current national champion and international gold medallist, said that she was mentally harassed and was slapped twice by her ex-coach and his assistant.
In an exclusive interview with The Indian Express
, Herald shared her plight of training under Sharma before she was dropped from the Indian cycling team. She said she was targeted and harassed by Sharma and his assistant, Gautamani Devi, as they felt the Andaman cyclist had developed a romantic bond with another female cyclist from the team.
"Gautamani Devi thought I was in a relationship with another female cyclist, and harassed me a lot. She taunted, ignored and isolated me from the rest of the cyclists. Eventually, I was removed from the national camp. In truth, there was nothing like it… we are just good friends," Deborah told The Indian Express.
She spoke at length about the toxic environment in the cycling camp that had affected her health and mentality. "It affected me so much that I started losing weight because I couldn't eat properly… I was pulled up if I spoke with any teammate, male or female. If I bumped into someone in the dining room, I would be shouted at. It reached a stage where, on some days, I started eating (alone) in my hostel room. I was singled out and harassed for no fault of mine," she said.
She further disclosed about the day when she was slapped by her coach. "The AC in my (hostel) room was not working. So, I went to the room of one of the boys from Andaman on the floor above mine. Sir found out and slapped me — twice. I didn't think about it much back then and I do not think a lot about it now. Whatever happened, happened," she said.
Because of the growing harassment and ill-treatment, Herold said her performance was affected. She even tried to switch her discipline which eventually did not work out for her.
Herold was shocked when she got to know about the incidents described in the complaint made to SAI by the top cyclist who alleged Sharma forced her to stay in his room, offered her a "post-training massage", "forcefully" tried to pull her towards him, and asked her to "sleep with him" during a camp in Slovenia in May.
Herold hopes that such incidents do not ever happen again in the world of sports that believes that there should be a change in coaching culture that could safeguard the future of athletes.