Where is Dipa Karmakar, India's produnova girl?
Dipa's name was featured in the original list of Indian athletes shared with the Hangzhou Asian Games organiser. But sports ministry rejected her selection in the trials, citing she did not meet the eligibility criteria.
Dipa Karmakar is India's most decorated gymnast and the undisputed legend of the sport. Dipa, who is only among five gymnasts in the world who successfully attempted the Produnova vault, the vault of death, has made a comeback in international gymnastics at the FIG World Challenge Cup in Szombathely, Hungary, earlier in September. But she could not make the cut in the final.
Dipa achieved many firsts for Indian gymnastics, for instance, finishing fourth in the vault final at the Rio Olympics and winning a gold medal at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup in July 2018.
Having been out of competition since 2019, with the anterior cruciate ligament injury forcing her to stay away from international events followed by a doping ban imposed on October 11, 2021, Dipa was eagerly looking forward to the Asian Games for a revival of her illustrious career.
With the ban ending, Dipa participated in the gymnastics trials held on July 11-12 in Bhubaneshwar. She topped the trials with an all-around score of 47.05. Pranati Das scored 45.80 while Pranati Nayak skipped the trials, but the Bengal gymnast used her score (44.43) from the Asian Championships to secure the qualification.
Dipa's selection quashed
Complying with the procedure, the Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) included Dipa in the nine-member squad for the Asian Games.
Her name was featured in the original list of Indian athletes shared with the Hangzhou Asian Games organiser and the Olympic Council of Asia. Dipa even featured in six separate disciplines - all-around, balance beam, floor exercise, uneven bars, vault, and team.
But the sports ministry refused to approve her bid to participate in the Games since she did not meet the ministry's eligibility criteria - ranked within the top 8 in Asia - since she was out of competition due to the doping ban.
"In non-measurable individual sport, the player must have achieved 8th rank in the last 12 months," the ministry's guidelines read.
Dipa, who sustained a knee injury in the vault qualifying event at the 2018 Asian Games, did not have an official score in the last 12 months which eventually forced her to miss the cut, as stated in the ministry's guidelines.
With the ministry implementing the guidelines only in July, GFI protested. “We reviewed the evaluation by the SAI officials and realized that the SAI officials used entirely new criteria to evaluate the gymnasts which was not consistent with the criteria published by the MYAS. Such inconsistency in the application of selection criteria is resulting in the elimination of established gymnasts like Dipa Karmakar, Rakesh Patra, Yogeshwar Singh, etc., who have already proved their capability and fulfill the criteria published by MYAS,” the GFI said in a letter.
But the ministry turned a deaf ear to the federation's insistence. It eventually rejected eight names from the recommended list and approved only Nayak's name for the continental showpiece.
'Deprived of the opportunity to participate in the Asian Games
Dipa was harboring the hope of a last-minute consideration after she wrote a letter to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) officials, requesting them to relax the selection criteria as it did for the men's and women's football teams, who did not meet the eligibility criteria but was considered 'keeping in mind their latest performances in the recent times'.
Dipa, in her letter to the SAI, wrote, "I faced several setbacks, including two ACL tears in 2017 and 2019, limited opportunities to compete during the pandemic, and a 21-month suspension that concluded in mid-July 2023 due to doping violation. I earnestly request the sports ministry to consider my exceptional circumstances and kindly grant the necessary relaxation in the eligibility criteria."
But as the SAI and ministry refused to consider her request, Dipa fumed and vented her anger about being 'deprived of the opportunity to participate in the 19th Asian Games'.
"On this Independence Day, I am using my freedom of speech to discuss recent events that have proven to be very demotivating and discouraging. The Asian Games 2023, an event I have eagerly anticipated for the past two years, looks further than it is. To my surprise, despite topping the national trials and meeting the selection criteria, it appears that I will be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the 19th Asian Games," the 30-year-old wrote in her statement issued on social media on August 15.
"Worse still, the reasons behind this decision are unknown to me and have not been communicated officially. Instead, my fellow gymnasts and I are left to read about our exclusion from the Games in the news and I simply don’t know what to make of it. All I ask is for the selection criteria to be applied fairly and consistently across all sports," she concluded.
Since her hope of competing in the Asian Games was dashed, her coach Bishweshwar Nandi questioned the ill-treatment meted out to Dipa and voiced concern about the wellbeing of the sport in India.
“This is the first time I have seen that a team (football) is being selected based on past performance. Even as a coach and earlier as a player we always selected athletes based on current performance and form. But this time it was based on past performances. This is not good for Indian gymnastics and will take the sport backward. The men’s team could have been considered," said the Dronacharya Award recipient.