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Changes in Indian track and field calendar leave top athletes in the lurch

In a jolt to athletes’ preparations in an important year, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has advanced the dates of its two marquee events – the Federation Cup and National Inter-States Senior Championships – by a month each. This could impact the training schedules for India’s top athletes, including Neeraj Chopra, as they prepare for the Asian Games and World Athletics meet.

The change was communicated to the athletes on April 15, giving them exactly a month to amend their training cycles. The Federation Cup was to be held in mid-June but is now slated for May 15-18 in Bhubaneswar, while the Inter-States competition, originally planned for July, will go on from June 15-18 in Ranchi.

Which athletes will be most affected by this change in the calendar?

This change in calendar affects every Indian athlete as they’re now forced to amend their training schedules and programmes. Those who planned to go abroad will now have to change their timelines while those who are already abroad might need to cut short their trips. Among the top-flight athletes, the ones who will have to make the biggest changes include –

  • Neeraj Chopra: Currently training in Turkey, will compete in the Diamond League event in Doha on May 5. He had planned to properly begin his season only in June.

  • Murali Sreeshankar: Currently working with coach Keith Hurston in Texas, USA.

  • Jeswin Aldrin, Praveen Chithravel: The duo are training in Cuba with their coach Yoandri Betanzos. They plan to compete in events across Europe.

  • Annu Rani: Currently training in Germany

  • Avinash Sable: Has been training in the USA since mid-March.

How will their preparation be affected?

Athletes usually train to peak, i.e. be in their best shape, just before big competitions. However, having to compete and qualify nearly two months before these major events would affect their preparations as they may be forced to peak early, maintain their form and ensure they remain at their peak until the Asian Championships and Asian Games.

Plus, this change in the calendar would also pose travel issues. Take Sreeshankar’s case, for example.

He’s currently in the US and will compete at an event in Chula Vista on April 30. He will then cut his trip short and come back to India at least by May 10 to rest, recover and be ready to compete at the Fed Cup. Once the Fed Cup ends on the 18th, he will have to immediately fly to Greece to compete at the International Jumping Meeting [on May 24]. He will have less than three days to adjust to the change in time zones and weather, recover from the travel and train to be able to give his best at the meet. No easy task.

Do all Indian athletes have to compete at the Fed Cup and Inter-States?

Yes – but with a rider. Sumariwalla says every single Indian athlete, who wants to represent the country at the Asian Championships or Asian Games, has to compete in India. But, he adds, the AFI may make an exception and excuse an athlete from competing in the two events if the dates are clashing with a major international event.

“Everybody has to compete, except for some Diamond League event or some other very big championship where we’d like them to participate. However, those are 1 or 2 cases.”

Why was the change made?

Every country is required to submit a final list of participants to the host organization roughly about two weeks before the start of any major competition. As per AFI president Adille Sumariwalla, the change in the AFI calendar was caused by a change in the Asian Athletics Association (AAA) and Olympic Council of Asia’s (OCA) rules.

“Normally, we send the final list of athletes 15 days before the event, like it is for the World Championships and Olympics. However, the AAA has asked for the final list 45 days before the start of the Asian Championships and the OCA has asked for the final list 75 days before the start of the Asian Games,” Sumariwalla told ESPN.

Sumariwalla stated that the AFI received a notice last month regarding the tight deadline to submit the final list and had requested a larger window but did not receive an exemption.

He added, “Our calendar was made more than a year in advance and we finalized it in November last year. But now with the new deadline, what can we do? We have to run a final trial and hence we’ve had to change the dates of the two events.”

When are the Asian Championships and Asian Games?

The Asian Championships are scheduled to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from July 12-16. So the final list will have to be sent to the AAA by May 28. So this final list will essentially be based on the results from the Federation Cup in mid-May.

The Asian Games, on the other hand, is slated for September 23 to October 8 in China. This means the final list for this multi-sport event will have to be sent to the OCA by July 10. The AFI will have nearly a month after the Inter States [mid-June] to name the final squad for the Asian Games.

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