Malappuram: The Kerala High Court on Thursday issued legal notice to the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) and the Sport Authority of India (SAI) on a petition filed by Malayali quarter-miler Anu Raghavan challenging her non-inclusion in the national 4x400m relay squad for the Rio Olympics.
The petitioner alleged that the sports authorities, acting on the advice of national team’s track and field coach Yuri Ogorodnik, selected dope-tainted Ashwini Akkunji ahead of her by disregarding her better timings in the individual 400m event.
Aswini had been handed a two-year ban by the NADA Disciplinary Panel after she tested positive for steroids in 2011. She returned to the mainstream after serving the ban in 2014. There were allegations that the Karnataka-based athlete was getting ‘VIP’ treatment from the authorities as they did their best to offer her a smooth return to competition.
Notably, the Ukraine-based coach had also been dismissed for his alleged role in the doping scandal in 2011, the biggest in the country’s history. He returned to India last year when the AFI handed him a fresh contract.
The Rio-bound 4x400 relay team comprises M. R. Poovamma, Anilda Thomas, Debashree Majumdar, and Nirmala Sheoran, who has made the cut for the Olympics after clocking 51.48 secs in 400m. Four athletes, Keralite Jisna Mathew, Uttar Pradesh’s Priyanka Panwar, Anu and Aswini, staked claim for the remaining two ‘reserve’ spots. After detailed deliberations and on the recommendation of coach Ogorodnik, the AFI decided to exclude Anu and Priyanka from the team.
The decision triggered a controversy as it was alleged that Ogorodnik turned against Anu after she refused to oblige him and get into his good books. Only one athlete whom Ogorodnik coached could find a place in the relay squad and it was Aswini.
In fact, Anu, hailing from Palakkad, has been in supreme form in 400m this season. Here is a comparison between the timings registered by Anu and Aswini during the last few months:
Indian Grand Prix (Delhi): Anu 54.3 sec, Aswini 55.2 sec; Federation Cup: Anu 53.54 sec, Aswini Did Not Start; Sprint & Relays Cup (Erzurum, Turkey): Anu 55.18 sec, Aswini 54.68 sec; Poland Nationals I: Anu 54.27 sec, Aswini Did Not Start; Poland Nationals II: Anu 53.72 sec, Aswini 53.98 sec; Indian GP (Bengaluru): Anu 53.88 sec, Aswini Did Not Start.
The only occasion Aswini managed to record better timing than Anu was at the Sprint & Relays Cup Turkey, where the latter was pitted against seemingly weak opponents. There were unconfirmed reports that the AFI arranged ‘special’ trials for Aswini to help her qualify for the Olympics.
“My battle is against the corruption and nepotism within the Federation. I’m hopeful of getting justice,” Anu said, adding that she was disappointed as the State government, people’s representatives or former athletes did not come forward to support her.