Leading female para-athletes accuse PCI of “mental harassment”

NEW DELHI: India’s two leading women para-athletes, both ranked among World’s top-10 in their respective class, have alleged “mental harassment” and “injustice” at the hands of the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), and threatened to sit on a protest alongside the agitating wrestlers at Jantar Mantar here.Pooja Yadav (F54 category) and Sakshi Kasana (F55 category) – para-athletes on wheelchair – have petitioned the union sports ministry, highlighting the ills allegedly plaguing the PCI management, following which the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has launched a probe into their allegations.In their complaint, both the para-athletes – also India’s No.1 in their respective categories – have alleged that the PCI sends its preferred set of athletes — without following any selection criteria — and own set of coaches and escorts on a “payment basis”.It’s been learnt that the two had a meeting with SAI Director General (DG), Sandip Pradhan, in his office here, following which an explanation was sought from PCI.“The PCI has asked us to deposit Rs 2.5 lakh (for athlete) and Rs 2.5 lakh (for escort) for taking part in the World Para-Athletics Grand Prix 2023 going to be held in Italy this month. PCI personally prepared the list of athletes (without keeping any trials or selection criterion or any other information) and sent the list to the competition organisers for extending the invitation. The invitation list was prepared by PCI without our names being sent. Upon inquiring, the PCI asked for finances mentioned above to be deposited in the account if we wanted to participate. Even being on top in our categories, we were not selected as we are not financially independent but the para-athletes ranked below us were picked,” the two wrote in their complaint to the office of sports minister Anurag Thakur.“This is mental harassment of para-athletes, be it financially or emotionally. We bring glory to the nation every year but due to these disturbances and nuisances occurring, many are forced to leave para-athletics because of continuous harassment by PCI,” they alleged.While Pooja is national record-holder in javelin, shot-put and discus throw, Sakshi is a national record-holder in discus throw and a gold medallist in javelin at the Nationals. Pooja had recently set a new national record in her events at the 21st National Para-Athletics Championships in Pune in March. “If the government doesn’t listen to us, we will start our own protest alongside the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar to highlight the PCI’s wrongdoings,” the two told this publication.Responding to allegations, the PCI sent a detailed explanation to the minister’s office on Friday, rejecting all the charges.“Sakshi and Pooja are performing well and there is no reason for discrimination or discouragement to them for competing in any championships. As per the guidelines of International Paralympic Committee (IPC), F54 and F55 categories are not allowed dedicated personal escorts and it is only athletes with categories F51, 52 & 53 who can have personal escorts. However, if an athlete desires to take a personal escort, he/she is allowed at his/her own cost… However, the team escorts have always been there with the team and, if they want any assistance, they can take the help of the common escort for the team,” the PCI said in its response.“The complaint of Pooja and Sakshi with regards to deposit of Rs. 2.5 lakh is in view of the above explanation for allowing them to participate in any of the IPC-approved championships of their own choice and requests. Nevertheless, the amount of contribution is for remittance to PCI accounts and not to any personal account in order to support expenses for bearing cost of air travel, boarding and lodging, local transport, accreditation/ entry fee, miscellaneous charges, covid test, capitation fee etc,” the PCI added.

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