'Sports selection should be sensitive, broad-based'

Ashwini Nachappa

Ashwini Nachappa, former international athlete, feels broad guidelines are the way forward when it comes to selection of teams for international tournaments. She tells DH’s Rajeev K that there should be a process which rewards consistency and not just a one-off show. Excerpts from an interview:

Ahead of every major Games, we go through controversies over selections. What is the state of mind of an athlete in such a situation? 

First, we have the race towards qualification for the Games. But at times, the qualifying terms do not have clarity. Each sport is different, but even the ministry has one blanket term. If you take the case of sailing this time, the girl who won the silver, Varsha Gautam, had an issue. She had to approach the court and finally got selected. Why do the athletes, instead of focusing on performance, have to go through this?  

I think for every rule, there are always exceptions. You know that conditions could have been better, and you could have performed better. There needs to be a certain sensitivity towards that issue to ensure that players who have been consistently performing but may not have performed in that particular trial for specific reasons, do not get the rough end of the stick. The idea is, if they are close to being a medal prospect, you should not give up on them.

We have norms, but we seem to be having problems following it…

The standards keep changing as the performances keep improving. Asian Games standards are different from Commonwealth Games standards, and those of Olympics are even higher. You can broadly have a qualifying norm but depending on the quality of the event, other things should also be considered. You say sixth place of the last Asian Games is the standard, and the athlete may have fallen short of the sixth place by 0.01 of a second, but the prospect is very much there. That opportunity must be looked into.

What is the ideal process of team selection?

We are at a stage when we are not looking at merely qualifying for an event. We are looking at medals. For all of us who watched the Asian Games, one thing that really stood out was the mindset of the athletes today. Back in our days, we hardly had any exposure and it was a struggle to get through — I remember once we had 17 or 18 trials, every other day there was a trial. Till we actually ran the race, we didn’t know who was running the race. That cannot be done. You have to move on. Now, there is a lot of hunger for success and that momentum carries on. In the case of athletics, for example, you could see the moral support they were getting. Every athlete was urging the other to perform and they were looking to win medals. 

So, for selection, you can have a broad guideline. And I think much has to be done by the coaches and not the officials. The coaches who are training should be in the process of identifying an athlete and saying that he or she needs exposure now, so that they will perform well at the next Games. You can fine-tune the guidelines, upgrade everything, there is nothing wrong in that.

Would you advocate the setting up of a sports tribunal, so that we can avoid these court cases at the last minute?

Of course, there has to be a fast-track process, perhaps headed by a Supreme Court judge. It is not like a normal court process because athletes need time to train. A fast-track process would help them redress their grievances and get back to their main area, which is training and competing. 


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'Sports selection should be sensitive, broad-based'

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