CHENNAI: Back in February during the National Games in Kerala, long-distance runner Preeja Sreedharan before warming up on the eve of her competition, came to the corner of Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium where athletes were resting. Despite chatting, her eyes were looking for a particular person.
She found him, sitting among coaches. Preeja went up to him and with an air of authority stemming from her familiarity with him said, “Bybu chetta (brother), I’m feeling a bit stiff. I need a deep massage”. It was not the first request that came Bybu P R’s way that day. An exponent of Kalaripayattu-based massage system, Bybu has been in the athletics national camp since 2013.
Three months later, Bybu finds himself an outcast. The SAI-LNCPE, where the national camp for women’s 4x400m relay, men’s and women’s long jump is being held, has decided to restrict his services to male athletes only, saying masseurs massaging female athletes will ‘lead to issues in the future’.
The camp houses nine female and one male athlete and according to the decision, which was taken four days ago, Bybu practically has little to do. SAI centre’s medical in-charge Dr George Mathews said the decision was taken to avoid controversies in the future.
“SAI has been in the eye of the storm for a while and we don’t want to give a chance to detractors to point fingers at us. We have a masseuse and she is now solely responsible for women,” he said.
However, coaches were furious at the decision. “He’s been in the camp for long and athletes demand his presence. If stars like Krishna Poonia, Seema Punia and Tintu Luka had no issues working with him, why should the doctor bother about him?” a senior coach from Patiala commented.
SAI sources indicated there has been no directive against masseurs working with females and SAI Thiruvananthapuram’s act was a knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Alappuzha, where four trainees attempted suicide and one died.