Maharashtra sailing in troubled waters

September 30, 2017



MUMBAI: This is yet another example of how constant in-fighting among power-hungry sports officials can ruin careers and make a mockery of the game.

Thanks to a farcical turn of events, two warring factions, the Maharashtra State Amateur Aquatic Association (MSAAA) have sent two different teams, each picked by rival groups, for the National Swimming Championships, set to be held in Bhopal from October 7-11.

While the group headed by Abhay Dadhe and one which is recognized by the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) has picked a 52-member strong team which includes all the best swimmers of Maharashtra including Virdhawal Khade, the other faction, led by Sudhakar Shanbhag, has selected a 24-member squad for the event. The SFI has made it clear that it will accept the entry of the team picked by Dhade’s panel since it’s a ‘legal body’, but the rival panel is confident that, following a three-year legal battle with SFI on the issue in the courts which it claims to have won, its team will eventually be allowed to participate in the Nationals.

Explaining Shanbhag panel’s stand, Raju Palkar, who claims to be the treasurer of the MSAAA told TOI on Friday: “In 2014, we held a valid election of our association. The SFI, however, opposed it because their observer didn’t come for it. Basically, they deemed it as illegal because their man didn’t win the election. Since then, we’ve conducted a lot of championships in all age-categories, but SFO doesn’t recognize it, so, out of fear, the swimmers don’t participate in it. We had appealed on the issue in the Bombay High Court and City Civil Court. They directed it to the charity commissioner, who has ruled that ours, and not a body created by them in 2015, is a legal body.

“On September 20, we sent the SFI the court order, the verdict of the charity commissioner, and our entries for the nationals. Now, they must accept the entries sent by us, since we’ve been deemed as the legal body by the charity commissioner. We know that the ‘illegal’ committee has sent a team of good swimmers too. We don’t want them to suffer, and if the SFI permits, we’ll allow those swimmers to swim from our team. We’re confident that the court will direct SFI to allow our team’s swimmers to participate in the Nationals. We’ll allow only the main team, which has been picked by the Abhay Dade panel, and no other team (in the Nationals). All the top swimmers of Maharashtra, including Virdhwal Khade, are in that team. They’ve conducted two nationals, including one in Pune last year, since being elected (in 2015). The other faction is just spoiling everything.

The SFI, though, has made its stand clear. “The charity commissioner hasn’t informed us anything so far. If any third party comes and tells us to allow a second team, how can we allow that? This isn’t our problem. You check the timings of the swimmers picked by them. Not a single swimmer picked by them has qualified for the Nationals. So there’s no case of spoiling the careers of swimmers here,” says SFI secretary Kamlesh Nanavati.

“When they conducted the election, they didn’t give us a proper notice. Neither did they inform us or the Maharashtra Olympic Association. There was no retired chief judge of the High Court involved which is the norm. The panel backed by us, however, involved observers and a retired High Court judge,” he alleged.

The whole fiasco has left the state’s top swimmer, Olympian Virdhawal Khade “frustrated”. “Things like this have happened before, but this is the first time it’s happened with Maharashtra. I don’t think four swimmers would be allowed in the finals. So, it would be a huge loss for a lot of people. The association needs to sort this out, and if that doesn’t happen, the government should step in. The SFI might let us swim and give us medals, but in that case, we’ll be swimming for the SFI, and not Maharashtra. If the fastest swimmers end up swimming under the SFI flag and not represent Maharashtra, it’ll be a huge loss for our state,” he lamented.

“I already see a lot of Maharashtrian swimmers switching allegiance to Railways and Services. We’re missing out on so many medals because they’re not finding the right opportunities in Maharashtra. To add to it, the Maharashtra government has not fulfilled its commitment to the swimmers (in terms of promised prize money for winning Nationals). We’re already missing out on five-six gold medals due to this. We’re losing fantastic talent, which is hurting Maharashtra. I think when the next National Games come through, I don’t see a lot of swimmers representing Maharashtra. And if we keep sending the third or fourth-best swimmers for the Nationals, we’re never going to win a lot of medals. I believe the government should intervene in such situations, because associations are made to help athletes, and not hurting them,” he stressed.

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