University athletes deserve a better deal

In March this year, Haryana’s Himanshi Malik clocked an impressive 52.99s while winning the women’s 400m gold at the National inter-university athletics championships in Chennai. It was the second fastest time in Asia then.

Three months later, she clocked a stunning 51.76s to finish second behind Anjali Devi at the Inter-State Nationals in Bhubaneswar. Incidentally, Anjali failed a dope test taken at the meet.

Himanshi’s stunning run was one of the breakthrough performances in Indian athletics this year and it carried her to the Asian Games in China in September where she clocked a poor 57.82s in the heats.

The National varsities women’s championships, organised by the KIIT-deemed to be university, are currently on in Bhubaneswar and with the number of heats in some track events crossing 30, life has become tough for athletes. And with the North, East and West zone men’s championships being held simultaneously at the same venue, the schedules have gone for a toss.

“Events are delayed by many hours and on the opening day, the events ran till 2.30 a.m.,” said a seasoned coach from Bhubaneswar.

Binu George Varghese, the Mahatma Gandhi University’s director of physical education in Kottayam, feels there is an urgent need to fix qualification standards in the varsities Nationals to bring down the number of athletes.

“That’s a good idea. But earlier, they had only the all-India meet now we have introduced zonal events (in the men’s section) as a sort of filter,” said Baljit Singh Sekhon, joint secretary-sports at the Association of Indian Universities (AIU).

“The zonals’ top athletes qualify for the all-India meet. That will also bring down the logistical problems for organisers with the number of athletes coming down. We will see how effective this is and then think about qualification standards at the zonal-level or national-level.”


Every year, the varsities Nationals throw up big surprises.

This time, despite the women’s varsities Nationals coming at the end of the season, Chandigarh University’s Rashdeep Kaur from Punjab — who ran in the World University Games in China in August — produced a personal best 54.21s (previous best 55.05s) while winning the 400m gold.

There is no dope-testing at the varsities Nationals and there is a feeling among many that these performances are not genuine.

“It is important to have dope-testing at the varsities Nationals,” said Binu George.

With javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra winning gold at the Olympics and Worlds, Indian athletics is on a nice high now. And Indian athletes, like sprint hurdler Jyothi Yarraji, have done well at the World University Games too.

The AIU is not an affiliated body of the Athletics Federation of India. And the AFI does not consider the performances in Indian university meets as there is no dope testing there. It is now time for the AIU to use the AFI’s expertise in organising National meets to take the sport ahead.

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