Asian Games 2018: India's sailing team looks to keep focus after being distracted by off the water incidents

G Rajaraman
The challenge for the Indian sailing team competing in six classes at the Asian Games regatta will come not only from the elements off the Jakarta coast but also from the series of happenings away from the waters.

The nine-member Indian sailing team has been left hoping that the turbulent weather rocking the Yachting Association of India (YAI) in the recent times, would not affect its composure during the Asian Games regatta off the Ancol Marina in Jakarta, beginning on 24 August.

More than anyone else, the 20-year-old Varsha Gautam, who is competing in the 49er FX Class with Shweta Shervegar, will be well aware that she will be under the spotlight for having taken YAI to court over selection matters. She knows that she will have to deliver good results to stay on course to her dream of competing in the Olympic Games.

Well before the drama over selection erupted, she had riled up the YAI by hiring a former chief national coach Peter Conway (Britain) as her personal coach. In fact, the selectors pointed out that Conway played an important role in Varsha and Shweta securing a silver medal in the Asian Championship, apparently holding it against her.

Besides, the YAI Secretary-General Anil Anand told the selectors that Varsha had employed 'improper procedures' in pursuing her selection to the Asian Games team. Worse, he stated that the Chennai sailor had brought disrepute to YAI with her utterances to the media and convinced the selection committee to refer it to the Council for 'suitable remedial action'.

It is a pity that the storm lashing YAI for some time now has not shown any signs of abating despite the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) resolving the selectorial tangle that was of YAI's making ahead of the Asian Games. And, the sailors are striving hard to stay focused on the task on hand by avoiding any discussion about overseas coaches.

Their latest distraction stems from the stinging and bitter reaction of erstwhile chief national coach Ian Stuart Warren of Australia to YAI's bid to fill that breach. Barely a day after YAI advertised the vacancy, Warren fired a fresh salvo against YAI and some officials, warning the international coaching community to be wary of taking up the position.

It has been barely a few days since the IOA, acting on the orders of the Delhi High Court, picked Varsha and her crew Shweta to represent India in the 49er FX class ahead of YAI's choice of Ekta Yadav and Shaila Charles. IOA's action, perhaps rooted in the fact that Varsha and Shweta did well in the Asian Championships in Jakarta, led to Ekta Yadav crying foul.

Meanwhile, Warren has warned the international coaching fraternity through a Facebook post to be careful about accepting the position that he vacated two days before the Indian team reached Jakarta for the Asian Championships in June this year. He has indicated that he is initiating legal action against YAI to recover "large sums of money" (reportedly between $12000 and $14000).

When he resigned on 13 June, Warren was said to have pointed out that there was not only interference with his work as chief national coach but also lack of support and communication about running the programme. He also reportedly wrote in his resignation letter that some poorly made decisions were an issue.

He wrote that such matters caused him much stress over his final 10 months, pointing out in "total disbelief" that its seems to be okay for YAI to disregard and ignore various communications on the subject. Warren was shocked that he was contacted by YAI only when it needed something and not when he sought information and support.

Continuing with his tirade against two key officials in the sport, Warren pointed out that they were not to be trusted. Most of the sailing fraternity believes that the two men hold the key to the decision-making process in the sport, playing roles that determine the future of young Indian sailors.

Varsha had been identified along with Aishwarya Nedunchezhian for support by the Sports Authority of India's Target Olympic Poidum Scheme back in 2015 with an eye on 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. However, the 2014 Asian Games 29er bronze medallists were removed from the list after they parted ways and found different partners in the 49er FX class.

A smarter national federation would have attempted to keep the successful combination together but the YAI may not have made adequate effort to ensure that Varsha and Aishwarya Nedunchezhian would stick together as envisaged when they claimed the Asian Games bronze in Incheon 2014.

Instead, they were competing for the same slot with different partners.

The challenge for the nine Indian sailors competing in six classes at the Asian Games regatta will come not only from the elements off the Jakarta coast but also from the series of happenings away from the waters. If they can stay focused on being their best during the Games, these Indians can come off with more than a medal.

Also See: Asian Games 2018 diary: Of rule-bending taxi rides, misplaced luggage and sprawling athletes' village

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Asian Games 2018: IOA says sport ministry included 4 officials in Indian contingent without its recommendation

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