Is AFI preparing a backdoor entry for Nirmala into relay team?

The Asian champion will be leaving for Prague on Wednesday to join the national camp.

The AFI had excluded Nirmala Sheoran (in picture) from the 4x400m relay team for the coming Asiad in Jakarta.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Is the Athletics Federation of India preparing a backdoor entry for Nirmala Sheoran in the Indian mile relay team for next month’s Asian Games?

That seems so for the AFI has asked the Asian 400m champion Nirmala from Haryana, Karnataka quartermiler Vijayakumari and Kerala’s 400m hurdler Anu Raghavan to join the national camp for quartermilers and hurdlers, which moved from India to Prague, Czech Republic, a few days ago. “The three have got their visas and will be leaving for Prague from Delhi on Wednesday afternoon,” confirmed an AFI source.

For the last few months, the AFI had been reiterating that only national campers would be included in the Indian squad and when it excluded Nirmala from the 4x400m relay team for the coming Asiad in Jakarta, the national federation finally appeared to take a firm stand after years of dilly-dallying.

TWO GOLDS, THE BIG TEMPTATION

The Indian women are the Asian Games mile relay defending champions and won the gold in 2014 with a new Games record. And Nirmala’s presence is certain to make the side a favourite in Jakarta, since it also includes the new Under-20 World 400m champion Hima Das. Nirmala had powered the team to gold at last year’s Bhubaneswar Asians too.

The 4x400m mixed (men and women) relay will also make its Asiad debut in Jakarta and India will be the favourite for gold there, too, if Nirmala is included.

That could be the reason why the AFI is tempted to clear the path for Nirmala, who had been in hiding for nearly nine months after last year’s London Worlds, evading dope-testers and raising suspicion, only to pop up at the recent inter-State Nationals in Guwahati. There, she booked an Asiad berth in the individual 400m by finishing second to Hima.

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Though Nirmala has not been named in the relay squad, according to the Asiad rules, any member of the team can run the relay.

“Nirmala will be running only the individual event,” C. K. Valson, the AFI Secretary, told Sportstar on Tuesday evening.

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The non-campers, including Nirmala, found a way around the AFI rule and into last year’s Asian championships and London Worlds relay team by joining the national camp at the last minute and becoming ‘campers’, at least for a few days. Will that be the case with Nirmala this time too? “I don’t know, that has to be decided by the coach,” said Valson.

Two non-campers, Uttar Pradesh’s Prachi and Chhavi Sharawat who shocked many national campers and finished third and fourth in the women’s 400m at the inter-State, have also questioned Vijayakumari’s inclusion and their exclusion from the relay team.

Vijayakumar was a non-camper, too, but the AFI had excused her, explaining that she had to attend university exams.