Eight-year plan needed to succeed in relays, says AFI chief Adille Sumariwalla

There is now a clamour about why so much money was spent on the relay teams, but the AFI president Adille Sumariwalla wants the public to be patient.

Adille Sumariwalla: “Just by one setback, if you are going to say, ''oh, now let's throw out the relay,'' then you're finished, then you're never going to do anything. This is the saddest part of Indian sport, we we are so short-sighted. We can't see beyond the next three months.”   -  Getty Images

With the performance of many quartermilers slipping worryingly and some of the top stars injured, questions are now being raised about what is happening in the long national relay camps held in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic.

For teams that were billed as capable of winning Olympic medals, the failure to even enter the men's and women's relay finals (the mixed squad however made the final, qualified for 2020 Olympics) at the recent IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha is seen as a big setback.

There is now a clamour about why so much money should be spent on these relay teams. But the AFI president Adille Sumariwalla wants everybody to be patient.

“We are so short-term, we went very high at the Asian Games. Suddenly, one year later, everybody is saying why should we have the relay team. Unless you have an eight to 10-year plan, we can never win,” said Sumariwalla, in a chat with Sportstar on Monday.

“Just by one setback, if you are going to say, ''oh, now let's throw out the relay,'' then you're finished, then you're never going to do anything. This is the saddest part of Indian sport, we we are so short-sighted. We can't see beyond the next three months,” he added.

He gave the example of Poland and Belgium, who played the waiting game and eventually claimed their spot on the podium. “Poland played at the relay for eight to 12 years. They got hammered, they never qualified, today they are in the top three to four.

“Belgium too. Today, there's not a single guy from Belgium in the 400m finals. But they are still getting a medal. Here, we say, 'relay is great, relay is great' one day. Six months later, you are saying the relay runners are not good.”

- Lack of quality 400m runners -

However, it is a fact that with many injured and with the timings of many coming down, there is a serious lack of quality 400m runners. Even the stunning arrival of Haryana's 19-year-old Kiran has not excited many. She popped up suddenly, shocked this season's fastest quartermiler Anjali Devi and gave a scare to V.K. Vismaya before taking the silver in the women's 400m here.

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Kiran comes from the same stable where Anjali (who was allowed to run only in the individual 400m at the Worlds as she left the national camp) was groomed and both are coached by Rohtas Siwach in Rohtak. And with the recent doping ban of Haryana's former Asian 400m champion Nirmala Sheoran, the AFI is aware that it needs to do more to tackle the doping menace.

“We have absolutely no doubt about it. Before, we may have tested 1000. Do we need to test more? Yes, but the Government has to do that,” he said. With the new moves that Sumariwalla revealed, it looks like the AFI is on the right path.

- On injuries and Dutee and Tajinder's spirited show -

Regarding the many injuries which weakened the relay teams, he said, “In sport, you get injuries. This is the problem of depending on one Neeraj Chopra and one Hima Das.

Today, the javelin is improving because we have people throwing 80m. Tomorrow, when you have eight women quartermilers running 52s, then you will see how things change completely,” he said.

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Sumariwalla was not surprised with shot putter Tajinderpal Singh and sprinter Dutee Chand peaking days after the Worlds, producing national records here. “Sometimes, these things happen in sport. It could also be because of the sort of competition and the sort of weather conditions there. But it should not be, according to me, because, that is the whole idea of giving them exposure outside. So that they become used to competing,” he said.