Friction at assembly on Olympics preparedness

Vinayak Padmadeo

Today News Online Service

New Delhi, May 17

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju is known to keep his wits under difficult circumstances, at least publicly. Monday was perhaps one of the few times when Rijiju lost his cool and walked out of a high-level meeting that was being conducted online to review India’s preparedness for the Tokyo Olympics.

According to a source, the reason was a simple misunderstanding with Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra. Ban on flights originating from India due to the Covid-19 situation in the country has forced Indian athletes to sit out of qualifying tournaments, and this was the sticking point in the meeting.

In the last month, India could not participate in the World Relays, the Pro-League hockey matches between India and Great Britain were postponed, and the Malaysian Open and Singapore Open badminton tournaments were postponed due to the pandemic. This denied several Indian athletes a shot at qualification for the Olympic Games.

This was brought up in the discussion today and Rijiju pointed that National Sports Federations should also pressurise the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because the travel ban was detrimental to Indian athletes.

The minister is learnt to have said at the meeting: “Federations and SAI have to be well coordinated so that IOA is given requisite information.”

IOA president Batra did not like the statement and objected to it, saying: “I take offence sir. I am directly in touch with all federations.”

According to a source, at this, Rijiju tried to clarify his position and said that his statement was being misconstrued, and all he wants is what is best for Indian athletes.

Batra then apologised but the minister quit the meeting in a huff, according to a source.

Batra was unavailable for comments.

Besides Rijiju and Batra, those who attended the meeting included sports secretary Ravi Mittal and SAI director Sandip Pradhan, Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla, joint secretary sports LS Singh, a Ministry of External Affairs representative, and shooter Gagan Narang.

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