I was shocked to read the statements of fellow Keralite and long-distance runner OP Jaisha saying she was not given drinking water during her 42 km road race at Rio Olympics. But as more news started coming in, I became worried, naturally at the authenticity of the views that came in from various parties involved (or not involved!), including Jaisha herself.
Let's look at the facts.
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is the governing body of athletics. The athletics events at the Olympics are conducted based on their rules and regulations. For instance, it was IAAF that upheld the ban on the Russian track and field team from competing in Rio.
IAAF instructs that water and refreshments shall be provided to all athletes during the course of the run and at the finishing line. They even mention that such facilities must be provided "free of charge".
The association further mandates that water and refreshment stations shall be provided at intervals of approximately 5 km (or shorter, subject to weather conditions) for all long-distance runs including the marathon.
Jaisha says the Games committee provided water only at an interval of 8 km. If this is true, she has every right to approach IAAF and file a complaint against the conduct at the Rio Games. The rule further says that the interval can be as less as 2.5 km, depending on warm weather conditions. The temperature in Rio was around 20º Celsius when the women's marathon started.
Individual countries can also have their own stations to serve the preferred but approved water and refreshments for their athletes. In this case, it is the responsibility of an athlete to nominate the stations where they want such refreshments.
It is up to Jisha now to make it clear where she wanted India's own stations. This would generally be specified in terms of intervals in kilometre points.
Such refreshments must be handed over to the Games committee beforehand so that they are under proper supervision. Again, the onus is on Jaisha to make clear what type of drinks and refreshments she wanted the Indian officials to get.
While Jaisha wouldn't agree, fellow runner Kavita Raut says that she was asked about the type of drinks and refreshments she would want and at which points. She says she refused to have her own stations.
|Indian sports minister posing for selfies with exhausted athletes. Photo: Twitter (VijayGoelBJP)|
IAAF stresses that such refreshment stations are mandatory during the course of a race as inadequately serviced stations can cause severe medical problems, including the death of affected athletes. This means they fully anticipate the situation encountered by Jaisha. They would not recommend an athlete to continue running dehydrated.
Jaisha says she was so exhausted that she couldn't even walk one metre after the 21 km mark. It is bemusing to think how she could complete the 42 km marathon in that case. Of course, pride and patriotism can keep her going, but for an athlete who cannot even walk a metre, running 21 km is a far-fetched dream.
Jaisha's claim that all other runners had their own stations cannot be true. Refreshment stations can be installed only at designated points and you could see how many stations were available just by looking at the race video.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) says they consulted the runners and their coaches and all of them refused to have individual stations. Besides, AFI also states that Jaisha ran previous marathons without the aid of individual stations.
Another worrisome fact here is that the marathon took place on August 14 and Jaisha waited until the Games are over to raise this complaint. Athletes are built differently and have variable stamina, but Kavita Raut did not report any such issues and even finished behind Jaisha. Being India's topmost long distance runner, Jaisha is expected to be fitter than Raut.
Now an official panel has been set up to probe the incident. We will hopefully get a better picture of this shameful episode. It is true that everyone cannot be right in this issue. Whoever is guilty, must be identified and taken to task. Everyone is under the scanner, including the claimant.
Jaisha must reveal the names of the people to whom she shared the details of what she wanted - including the type of drinks, refreshments, and the kilometre points where she wanted them served.