In what is being seen as the result of a tussle between rival federations, India’s top taekwondo players—including the country’s highest world-ranked man and woman—might be forced to choose between competing at the World Championships in Azerbaijan or taking part in selection trials to pick the Indian team for the Asian Games.
In a letter sent to state associations and central organisations on May 17, the Taekwondo Federation of India announced it has been given sanction by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) and Sports Authority of India (SAI) to conduct selection trials to select “probables for National coaching camp in preparation of our (Indian) team for Taekwondo events in the forthcoming Asian Games”.
The Taekwondo Federation of India (TFI) said it has given the proposal to the IOA to sanction trials at SAI, Lucknow between May 27-30. “On receipt of approval from Indian Olympic Association (IOA) we will inform our affiliated state associations,” the letter read.
The letter was issued one day after MYAS had sent a letter to SAI informing it to conduct trials to select a taekwondo team for the Asian Games. However, the trials coincide with the dates of the Taekwondo World Championships that will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan from May 29-June 4.
The root cause of the situation may be the fact that there are two rival bodies that claim to run the sport in India.
The Asian Games trials are being conducted by the TFI. The federation was granted recognition by MYAS as a National Sports Federation (NSF) for the promotion and regulation of the sport in India in March this year. Annual recognition of the National Federation had not been renewed after 2014 due to compliance issues with the Federation.
However the TFI has not been recognised by World Taekwondo, the international body, recognised by the International Olympic Association (IOC), that governs the sport. World Taekwondo instead recognises India Taekwondo (IT) as the Indian federation. In fact, the team for the World Championships was selected following the national championships conducted by IT in Nasik in March.
That team comprises 16 athletes (eight men and as many women), including Aman Kadyan, who at world number 18 in the men’s 54kg category is the highest-ranked Indian in the world standings, and Latika Bhandari, a three-time Asian Games competitor. These players have subsequently been training, initially in Tamil Nadu and subsequently in Gurgaon, in order to prepare for the Worlds event.
However, the announcement of the selection trials for the Asian Games on dates that coincide with the World Championships have muddled those plans a day ago. “The trials for the Asian Games overlap with the start of the World Championships. Even if it was possible for us to even fly out after competing in the trials, we wouldn’t be in any shape to compete at the Worlds,” says a member of the team who had been selected for the World Championships. The player wished to remain unnamed in order to avoid falling afoul of the TFI.
Should the players skip the World Championships in favour of the Indian trial, they will likely face a financial hit as well. With the IT not recognised by the Indian government, athletes who were part of the team competing at the World Championships are entirely self-funded as they had been over the last nine years when there was no singularly-recognised national federation.
“Athletes have had to pay for their travel and other expenses by themselves. It has worked out to between 2-2.5 lakh rupees per athlete. Many of the athletes have had to take out loans in order to compete at the World Championships. The expenses for things like flight tickets had already been made in advance. The problem is that the Asian Games trials were announced just 10 days before the players’ flight to Baku,” says a coach who did not wish to be named.
Players say they would have been able to make a more informed choice had they been made aware of the dates of the Asian Games trials well in advance. On May 4, the Indian Olympic Committee issued a letter signed by CEO Kalyan Chaubey, asking athletes, coaches, and support staff of federations where there were ‘disputes’ to send copies of their passports and photographs to the IOC, following which dates of selection trials would be announced. All the members of the team that is travelling to Baku have sent a copy of their passports and photographs.
“All of us want to take part in the Asian Games. Ideally, the federation should have set the dates for the trials after the conclusion of the World Championships. Right now, we are not sure what to do,” says a player.
TFI secretary general RD Mangueshkar was at first seemingly unaware of the fact that the dates of the selection trials as well as the world championships were clashing. “If the players are preparing for the world championships, they should also be in a position to take part in the selection trials for the Asian Games,” he said.
On being informed that the World Championships and the selection trials were indeed overlapping, Mangueshkar said, “If these players are good enough to win a medal (at the worlds) then we might consider them.” Mangueshkar however said that there was no possibility of the selection trials for the Asian Games being postponed. “It is not just us who are conducting trials on these dates. Handball, karate and volleyball trials are also being conducted. We have been told by the Sports Ministry that we have to conduct the trials before a certain date, so we have set the dates for the trials as the 27th, 28th and 29th of May. We are recognised by the Sports Ministry, so we have to run in accordance with them,” he said.
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