In 2014, I reached a milestone. Along with my partner, I had become the youngest ever sportsperson from India to win an Asian Games medal. The achievement, if you consider it objectively, was monumental, to say the least especially if you remember that it had been barely three years since I even took up the sport seriously.
Now, I am 20, and I am still internationally unbeaten in any class by a female sailor. To say that I have come a long way since then would be an understatement. Things happened, I learnt a lot, I picked up experience. There were hurdles along the way as is right with anyone’s life but the way you overcome that speaks volumes of you. Isn’t that how winners are forged? In fire and fury?
Right after my Asian Games medal, my teammate and I were put on the Target Olympic Podium Scheme intending to do well at the Rio Olympics. After I was dropped as one of the beneficiaries, I did not get any financial support at all from any quarter. I was still training- balancing my life as well as I could.
For a year, my teammate Sweta Shervegar and I have now been thriving on a self-funded campaign. Since our early days of training together, we knew that our Federation would not support us enough to ensure that their sailors get the proper training they need. We did not want to let that the fact that they refused to support us affect our practice. We even roped in Mr Pete Conway, erstwhile Chief National Coach of India, to oversee our progress and performance. We now train privately with him, and he was the one who led me to my Bronze at the 2014 Games.
It’s actually a good thing we did not rely entirely on the YAI.
Right before the Asian Games, we heard that the current coach for the Sailing Team had quit over issues regarding a discrepancy in his salary. As usual, the Yachting Association of India (the YAI) maintained that there had been no oversight on their part. But look at the result. The sailors were left abandoned and without a stable mentor to fall back on. Is this even right?
My grievances with the YAI also refer to similar bureaucratic issues that may very well affect my career now. Very suddenly, after following all their rules and norms, after toeing the line entirely, my partner and I were told that we were not a part of the Asian Games contingent that would represent India.
Let’s start at the beginning.
There were trials held but never once was it made clear that these would form the ONLY basis for participation and selection in the Asian Games. The trials were conducted in Chennai and a different pair won them. 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. It continued with the following directive that the best team in the Sailing Championships would be sent to the Asian Games.
We put in all our efforts and finances into participating and doing well at the Asian Sailing Championships As far as we knew, it was supposed to be the nomination event for the Asian Games. We paid for our flights and even had to transport the boat ourselves because we weren’t given enough time by the Federation to load the boat in their container.
Against all the odds we cleared the boat through customs, during Ramadan for that matter- a time when even banks are closed for ten days. In these conditions, we trained even despite the fact my crew got injured and needed six stitches on her hand two days before the big race. None of that mattered. We had our eyes set on the target. We knew exactly what to do.
We fought, and we fought hard, got the silver, and beat the other team only to be told that this was not the selection- that the names had already been sent on the basis of the trials that had been conducted previously.
When we questioned this, we were told that it was our fault for misunderstanding.
I do not understand the politics in Indian sports. Neither have I given much thought to nepotism. My job as a sailor has been only to concentrate on Sailing and no one can tell me I have not done that. At this point, I am not even asking for special treatment- just that the people concerned stick to the written policy that they themselves have penned down. I understand if there is a lack of support and funding because there are many in the same boat as us in that regard, but why put a stopper in success?
When the parents of some athletes are in decision-making bodies, conflict of interest is bound to manifest itself in some way or another. I am NOT saying that the deserving athletes are to be discredited just because their father is a higher up, but a closer look needs to be taken. My father has written multiple emails regarding this in the past. An athlete’s career can’t be based on whom she knows. The only criteria should be excellence. That’s all.
But clearly, there are many undercurrents here. None of which I have ever cared to deliberate upon because so far, the only undercurrents I have had to deal with have been in the water.
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. Is just saying that there was a miscommunication enough at this point? Don’t we, as sailors who win medals for the country, deserve a coherent answer from the authorities?
We deserve to go to the Asian Games. If we don’t, I’ll calm myself down by telling myself that there are just somethings that I cannot control. But this plea is not just for me, it is not just to make people aware of what is happening to me.
This thing, this unfairness, it is happening everywhere, in every sport and to every athlete who does not dance to the tune that they are expected to.
Performance is only secondary if it is considered at all
There is always a slight scare of what might happen if you make to much noise or if you “rock the boat”- to put a sailing metaphor. Will they end your career for it? Will they stop you from participating? Maybe something even worse might happen.
But right now, for me, its come to a point if I don’t stand up for it now, I know that this exact “mistake” will happen again- maybe at a worse time. Right before the Olympics, for example.
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’.
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.
We need to speak out. I need to speak out. If not me, who? If not now, when?