Last month, 20-year-old Varsha Gautham did India proud after she and her teammate, Shwetha, came second in the Asian Sailing Championship held in Jakarta, Indonesia. The competition was fierce and the girls' victory was commendable.
But only anger and resentment can be heard in Varsha's voice as she talks to TNM.
"The championship was supposed to be considered as the second round of selections for the Asian Games this year. However, just a week before we participated, we were informed that the selection criteria has changed," fumes the young sailor.
The first round of trials was held in Chennai on April 18. "Now, despite having performed better than the team selected for the Asian Games, we have been sidelined. This is a clear case of corruption within the Yachting Association of India and will cost our country's success on a world platform," she adds.
And, in order to fight this decision, the young woman is now planning to go to the Supreme Court, where she will file a case against the Yachting Association of India and the Indian Olympic Association.
According to the initial nomination process mailed to candidates, two rounds of selection were to be held. The first in Chennai, which was exclusively monitored by the Association, and the second in Indonesia. The best two teams from here would participated in the Asian Sailing Championship. Based on their performances in both venues, teams were to be selected for the prestigious Asian Games.
A week before the tournament in June however, the association mailed the players claiming that the trials held in Chennai would be the only deciding factor for selection. When teams questioned this decision, the association was allegedly silent at first. After three days, they informed players that the decision to have only one round of selection was taken at the Annual General meeting (AGM) in 2017 and would have to be followed.
"First of all, no clear circular was put out telling players that the selection process was decided in the AGM. And second, if that was the case, why tell us that there are two rounds?" asks Varsha.
Her team had come second in the selection process at Chennai. Varsha alleges that the sudden change of heart on the part of the association could be linked to the parents of participants. "The father of one of the participants who came first in the Chennai trials is on the board of the association. I think this is a huge conflict of interest. I am not saying that they are not deserving or talented but it is definitely a problem," she says.
Varsha's father had written to the association last year, pointing out that the practice of appointing parents of sailors as board members was not acceptable. But their efforts to nip any possibilities of corruption at the bud failed.
"Going to court was not an easy decision to take. I know that there is going to be a lot of pressure on me and my family. From across sports, whenever players believe they are being treated unfairly, they don't confront the matter because they are scared that their respective associations will ruin any future chances for them," says the 20-year-old. "But I've realised that if they can do this for the Asian Games now, they will do it for the Olympics in 2020 if left unchecked. Then all the work I have done for years will be wasted.â€ť
Varsha began sailing at the age of 8 and has pursued it with a single-minded determination since then.
"What these associations don't realise is that we players give up on a huge part of our lives to play the sport. We put all our energy into it, only to do our country proud. But instead of worrying about our performance, we are forced to partake in this politics. I won a bronze in the last Asian Games and was confident I will make it to this one. But that was not the case," rues the sailor.
Does she think India's chances of bagging a medal at the Asian Games will take a hit now?
"It has already taken a hit. Over the years, such incidences have only increased. No Indian sailor has even qualified for the Olympics before. I am going to court now because India's sporting standards have been compromised," says Varsha. "I don't know how many people will join me in this fight, but if I don't do this now, it is only downhill from here."
When TNM contacted the Yachting Association, Captain Ajay Narang made it clear that they would clarify the matter in court. "It is now going to be a fight between two lawyers. We will represent our side and make our stand clear whenever the matter is listed," he says.
A 524-member contingent of athletes has been announced for the Asian Games, scheduled to take place between August 18-September 2 in Indonesia, where they will vie for medals in 36 disciplines. The Indian Olympic Association has listed 277 men and 247 women athletes.
Varsha's case is not the only controversy to erupt ahead of the games. Former World No 1 air pistol shooter Heena Sidhu has come out all guns blazing against the selection policy of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). She was not selected for the 25m individual and 10m mixed air pistol event.
According to reports, the selection policy in the 10m air pistol for women came under the scanner for the federationâ€™s insistence on giving weightage to scores achieved in the Commonwealth Games. It was reportedly conducted under a format now considered obsolete.