Time has come for women athletes to stand up, says Bahl

Time has come for women athletes to stand up, says Bahl

Ajay Kumar Bahl

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) was left red-faced last week when a report revealed that 45 sexual harassment cases against women athletes were registered across its 24 centres in the last decade. Stressing on a zero-tolerance approach to the issue, Kiren Rijiju, the sports minister, gave SAI four weeks to dispose off the pending cases.     

Among the 45 complaints, 29 of them were against coaches. In fact, in October 2018, the episode of a teenage girl accusing a senior kabaddi coach of molestation shook the SAI, Southern Centre, here. The coach, who was under suspension, was found hanging in a hotel at his home town Davanagere.

A little over a year after the shocking incident, the campus on Friday, celebrated the ‘National Girl Child Day’ on the theme of ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’. On the sidelines of the event, Captain (In) Ajay Kumar Bahl, the newly-appointed Senior Director, spoke on the sensitive subject. Bahl stressed that anyone with even an intention of corruption or misconduct would not be tolerated. Excerpts. 

How do you plan to tackle the issue of sexual harassment?

We are pursuing a three-pronged approach: creating awareness, educating them, and then creating physical barriers (segregation of males and females). Initially, you impose restrictions and once society understands the limitations, then you can moderate these restrictions. Anyone who comes in is told there is zero-tolerance to sexual harassment. We are also having lectures and classes that tell athletes how to deal with the problem. 

How do you build a transparent and meaningful coach-athlete relationship?

The athletes and coaches must know their rights. There are a few sports like wrestling and boxing that involve contact. But if a girl knows the difference between a bad touch and a good touch, it means they are aware and educated about this. And now we put cameras everywhere and let people know that they are under CCTV surveillance. 

How seriously are coaches evaluated based on their conduct? 

Coaches must have mature relationships with their athletes. Nothing they do will go unnoticed. There is a monthly feedback system in place. Athletes can fill the form without having to write their names. In that, we have a clause called ‘conduct of the coach’. We look at the human approach of the coach. If you are a strict coach and you are getting results, then it works fine only in the initial phase. An athlete has to surrender to the coach and only then they make a successful combination. It will only happen if your on-the-field and off-the-field conduct is correct. We also have a suggestion box for athletes in which they can give inputs on the coaches. 

What efforts are being made to help women athletes open up on the issue? 

Whenever something like this happens, the girl has to report. The time has come for them to stand up. There has to be no fear element in them. At all women hostels, we make sure there are enough women officials for athletes to talk to. Ever since I have taken charge, I have put out the message. If there is anything that’s stopping an athlete from achieving his or her goal, he or she must report to me. We are clear about our plans to minimise such happenings at the centre.

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