On Monday, India’s former and current Olympians gathered to mark the launch of the Olympians Association of India (OAI). But an organisation run by athletes, to provide a platform to raise their concerns, appears to have made officials uneasy. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) office-bearers gave the function a miss despite being invited.
The launch function commenced with Union Sports Minister, Jitendra Singh, International Olympic Committee athletes’ commission chairman, Claudio Bokel, its member, Patrick Singleton, and many Rio-bound athletes in attendance.
IOA president, N Ramachandran, who was in the same hotel, did not attend despite being invited. IOA secretary-general, Rajeev Mehta, too skipped the event.
“We were surprised they did not come. There seems to be an impression that athletes are here to take over. We are here to work for Indian sports, and we are here to work together. Sooner they understand it, the better,” said Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan, the president of the new body.
“There was an IOC member at the function. She is in India for the first time, and the IOA president not showing up does not reflect well on the country. Even the sports minister was present. Everyone was receptive of the body, they understand it is for the good of sports. I understand they (IOA) have elections coming up, but we are an apolitical and independent body of athletes,” he added.
Asked when the invitation was sent, and to whom, Keshavan said, “We had invited members of the IOA over the phone a few days back. Our launch event only fell in place last week. I personally invited IOA president Mr Ramachandran today (Monday) morning. IOA secretary-general Rajeev Mehta too was invited, but he said he was unwell.”
When contacted, Mehta said, “I have severe fever. I had to take antibiotics to attend the function hosted by the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) for our Olympic-bound athletes.”
Asked if the IOA would recognise the new body, Mehta said, “We have not recognised them. There is no compulsion to do so. You can’t expect us to attend a function after handing us the invite to the president (Ramachandran) at 10 in the morning the same day. We have other pressing matters to attend to. We did not boycott the event; we didn’t have the time to attend their function.”
At the launch, OAI members stressed on the need to collaborate with sports administration, but the only positive response appeared to have come from the ministry and Sports Authority of India, whose logo, along with the IOC’s and the new body’s, adorned the canvas.
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