Bahrain’s golden run in athletics in the Asian Games — 10 individual gold medals — was fuelled by runners born in Africa — Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco. The Gulf nation has been offering citizenship to talented foreign athletes for years and this has raised eyebrows in the past. So far, nothing could be done to stop the process, which is entirely legal.
But then, Adille Sumariwala — the president of Athletics Federation of India and a council member of the IAAF — has two different views on the subject.
As a member of the IAAF, he does not approve the policy of countries like Bahrain offering nationality to the overseas athletes, but as the chief of the AFI, he doesn’t mind the Indians competing with the cross-national athletes. “I wear two hats and say two different things. I tell my athletes to accept competition, because we have passed the stage of looking at [the challenge from Asian or Commonwealth nations]. We need to look at the world level and as an Indian, they should not care whom they are running against if [performing at] the Olympic Games is the aim,” Sumariwalla told a selected group of scribes at the Bombay Gymkhana on Thursday evening.
“But as a member of the IAAF Council, I feel that smaller nations like East Timor, Bhutan or Nepal will be effected and they will not win medals. This (move by Bahrain, Qatar to import talent to win medals) should not be allowed,” he added.
The IAAF has introduced a three-year cooling off period before athletes can switch nationalities and participate in affiliated events. “I fought for a five-year (cooling off) term, but we have three-year rule now. In the coming years, I will push for more (years),” Sumariwalla said.
‘Only the beginning’ for India
Talking about India’s performance at the Asian Games, where it won eight medals, Sumariwalla feels that the number could have been much more in a “normal situation.”
“We finished with 10 silver medals, from which at least eight medals could have been gold medals in a normal situation. But this is only the beginning, we need to build from here,” he said, adding that it is important to enhance the process of progress.
India won seven gold, 10 silver medals and a couple of bronze to take the tally to 19, and Sumariwalla feels that this was a result of team work. “We did lot of strategy and team work behind the scene. It reflected in the results. I would sleep at 4 o’clock every morning after studying the performance of all athletes who would run against us. Look at the lane orders and then would come out with a strategy. We would go to the village in the morning, talk to the coaches and athletes and figure out the strategy. It was a great team work, where everyone chipped in,” Sumariwalla said.
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