Controversy prevailed at the All India Inter-University swimming meet at the Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Jalandhar when Likith SP, a multiple Khelo India gold medalist, stood atop the starting block and held up a poster which read: “I would prefer even to fail with honour than win by cheating. Let’s all swim fair, say no to cheating.” A few others also joined him in the protest and the organisers tried to pacify the agitated swimmers.
According to Likith's Karnataka statemate Srihari Natraj, the national record-holder in the 50 metres and 100 metres backstroke, the results were being rigged to suit swimmers from universities in Punjab. Automatic touch pads were not being used at the inter-university meet — the norm in most competitions — and officials were relying on manual time keeping.
Natraj, who was representing Jain University, said officials were turning a blind eye to false starts.
“LPU swimmers were making false starts. Normally that means immediate disqualification, but here they were allowed to continue in the race,” Natraj said. “And when the timings came out, people who you could see finished the race a few strokes behind the leader were adjudged the winner. It was clear that the organisers were being biased towards the host university,” the national champion added.
In the 4x100m freestyle relay, three of the four LPU swimmers made false starts, Natraj claimed.
Natraj said that Jain University came first with a time of 3 minutes and 32 seconds and the LPU team was behind them. “When they finally published the timings, LPU was declared winner with a time of 3:31 minutes,” Natraj says. “That didn’t make any sense. Earlier this year I was a part of the Karnataka team that won the national title with a timing of 3:31 minutes. How could LPU get the same time?”
‘Mistakes being rectified’
Association of Indian Universities (AIU) secretary general Pankaj Mittal said that corrective measures had been taken to ensure undeserving swimmers were not awarded medals. “The mistakes are being rectified and results are being updated. AIU has already taken action,” Mittal, who is in Coimbatore, said. “Normally there are AIU observers in such meets and players can submit their protest to the concerned officer,” Mittal added.
Sahil Chopra, who represented LPU, said that organisers had rectified mistakes. “There were technical errors and clerical errors. Results have been revised,” Chopra told The Indian Express.
Swimmers also talked about how the schedule was announced at the last moment but was given to local participants much earlier.
A top Swimming Federation of India official said that this is not the first time results at inter-university meets have been changed to suit the hosts.
“This happens almost all the time every year, and the results always benefit the host university,” says Chokshi Monal, secretary general of the SFI. “But there’s nothing the SFI can do because we don’t have a mandate or any authority at events conducted by the university games federation. As a result, no SFI official can be present at the competition. We can go and officiate at such an event only if we are invited, which we rarely are,” Monal said.
The secretary general, however said that the results at the inter-university meet don't matter when it comes to national team selection conducted by the SFI. “The timings from these meets are not counted for national or international records because we know it’s not reliable, and by no means do these results make a difference when it comes to selecting swimmers for international meets. At best winners can get a few extra marks in the university examinations.”.