The upshot of Dipa Karmakar’s fateful vault into history books at the 2016 Rio Olympics, by way of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the 2015 IAAF World Championships, was the concretion of the platform as a serious sport instead of it being brushed aside as an artistic offshoot.
However, nearly six months after the Rio Games, the ushering in of brighter days for Indian gymnastics have almost stalled, thanks to the bubbling over of the machinations brewing within the sport’s official body, the Gymnastics Federation of India.
An administrative logjam
As it stands, the GFI has been split into two rivalling factions each vying to exert its control to govern the body. The effect of this unnecessary breakdown of the national sporting body has been two-fold. One that it contravened the purposeful intervention of the Indian judiciary in setting up the GFI member panel. And the other that this grappling for assertion of authority has resulted in further procrastination of the national championships being conducted, which has not been held since 2014.
To delve into the subject further, Scroll spoke to the vice-president of the GFI, Riyaz Bhati, who volubly shared Indian gymnastics’ current predicament. “Our panel was appointed under the purview of the Delhi High Court in 2015,” opened up Mr. Bhati, giving a background about how the ongoing disorganisation was perpetuated. “Mr Sudhakar Shetty was appointed as the President, Mr Shantikumar Singh as the General Secretary and I was appointed the vice-president. Everything was going good, but Mr Singh soon moved away and set up a competing camp to ours.”
Despite the divisions cropping up, it was only when the court-appointed panel decided to hold the national championships that the matter came to a head. At the start of 2016, while the GFI organised its national event, the rival group simultaneously announced a national tournament of its own, under the ambit of the GFI. Not only did this create confusion for the athletes, it also created yet another legal wrangle with the Chandigarh High Court stepping in and staying the tournament.
The significance of the national championships
This delay has affected the morale of the athletes even as it has added to the atmosphere of uncertainty for gymnastics in India, leaving them with reduced scope. Of not only showcasing their aptitude, but also trying to making a living through the opportunities that would have been otherwise offered.
“In every sport, there are state-level championships and there is a national championship. Without the national’s, the gymnasts won’t get the exposure they need to compete,” said Bhati. “Also, we can’t give them certificates because of which they can’t apply for government jobs and this has affected the number of gymnasts joining in the sport.”
Bhati however firmly believes that the court’s decision will be in favour of their panel since it has validity, both from the international body and Indian government. “We are affiliated to the International Federation of Gymnastics. We also have the backing of the Indian Olympic Association that has intimated to the Indian government about the legality of our appointment.”
Irrespective of the background of legitimacy, the soonest that the pausing of Indian gymnastics at the national level could be rescinded is still a fortnight. The arbitration committee has scheduled its hearing with the two warring federation factions for December 26, before announcing its decision on who will get to hold the nationals.
The resultant decision will also extend to events and tournaments beyond the national championships demarcating a continuing pattern. And, even Bhati knows and accepts this. “The future of gymnastics is bright in India thanks to the support of the Sports Authority of India and because all state championships are happening as they are supposed to. But at this point, everything depends on the nationals being held and the GFI cannot do much now because we are following the court’s orders.”
A looming threat
Promising as this sounds, for the athletes and their coaches, it is a different worry altogether. That gymnastics does not once again get sidelined without its full potential coming to fruition, in the legal melee. And among such concerned ranks, are the duo of India’s Rio Olympics’ success story, Dipa Karmakar and her coach Bishweshwar Nandi.
Dipa has made several requests to have a national championships, a statement reiterated not only by Bhati and Nandi, but also by her in her interaction with Scroll in between one of her training sessions. But where, she too acknowledges that it will take some time for the judicial process to take its course, she had no qualms in driving home her urgency in stating the need to have a national championship.
“Nationals will develop competition in the country. Youngsters want to win medals and international events are secondary. There has to be a national event and the earlier it is held, it will be for the better,” said Karmakar.
Mr. Nandi too echoed his protégé’s sentiments, though his line of thinking was centred on how to ensure his students’ training didn’t suffer because of the prevailing crossfire. “We have a lot of targets but because of the court case, we aren’t able to do much. I am however not giving up on my practice, because of the problems. There’s no holiday for my students and there’s no taking time-off for them,” he said, adding the last as if voicing aloud an avowal of resolve.
At such a point where gymnastics’ prospects hinge upon the outcome of judicial mediation, the strengthening of willpower of the gymnasts – and their coaches – is perhaps the most fitting recourse to take. To not just keep their minds on the bigger picture of the sport gaining farther inroads, but to successfully vault through in these difficult days, on a personal basis.