BHUBANESWAR: Pratima Puhana, Pramila Prava Minz, Mina Madhuri Tappo and Asmita Kujur. Four champion rowers of Odisha who share among them not less than 80 international and national medals. Yet, they cannot train at the SAI SAG Water Sports Centre, Jagatpur, the only complex for rowing in the State. Why? Because they are "outsiders". That is what, they say, SAI coach PT Paulose told them.
For the last one and a half months, the four women rowers have been running from pillar to post for access to the water sports centre so that they can train for the ensuing national championship but they would not be allowed.
On August 2, when they turned up at the Jagatpur facility, the four rowers were told that only SAI inmates are permitted to train at the water sports centre located on the banks of Mahanadi in Cuttack. “Coach Paulose told us that we cannot practise because we are outsiders. I am yet to understand how we are outsiders in our own State,” said Pramila.
The four rowers, now working with Odisha Police, had picked up medals in the last edition of National Championships held at Bhopal in January. Pratima and Pramila won silver and bronze while Mina Madhuri grabbed double gold medals.
What was insulting for the four was the fact that their male counterparts - the men’s senior team members - are permitted to pratcise at the centre whereas they have been barred.Spending sleepless nights, the four approached the Odisha Police and the AIG of Police wrote a letter to president of Odisha Association for Rowing and Sculling Binod Dash. However, it yielded not much result.
Incidentally, Pratima and Pramila, the first Indian women pair to bag international medals in rowing at Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010, were inmates of the SAI hostel. So were Mina and Asmita.
“I am thankful to Odisha Government because it offered me a job in Odisha Police in 2015 when I was an employee with CRPF in Chandigarh at a higher remuneration. I came here because I wanted to continue my sporting career in my State. Now, I cannot even train at what was my alma mater,” said Pratima.
She is now weighing her options of quitting either the sport or the job. “If they will not allow practice here, there is no fun staying. I can plan my sporting career in some other State,” she points out.
After the rowers approached the association, it took up the matter with Sports and Youth Services Department of the State as well as the Sports Authority of India (SAI). “I had a meeting with DG, SAI along with State Sports Secretary last month. The SAI chief wanted the State Sports Department to send a recommendation letter. It has not happened yet,” Dash told this paper.For the sports complex and hostel, State Government had given land for free. In fact, the association had constructed the building and mobilised equipment.
“SAI's contribution was a coach and equipment but how can they debar champions of the State on such a silly ground whereas Government of India is promoting the Come and Play Scheme to encourage sports,” Dash added.Mina laments the treatment meted out to them. “Rowing is not like football or cricket; or even like indoor games. You need a river and boats to continue practice. Today I feel that despite my hard wark and love towards the game and State, I am being forced to quit the sports,” she said.