Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Sports functions of up to 100 persons allowed from September 21

Under guidelines for further relaxation of lockdown in areas outside containment zones, the central government in its order dated August 29, 2020 has allowed sports functions involving up to 100 persons, from September 21, 2020 onward.

“ Social / academic / sports / entertainment / cultural / religious / political functions and other congregations with a ceiling of 100 persons, will be permitted with effect from 21st September, 2020 with mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer,’’  one of the sub sections of the order said.

Swimming pools will however continue to remain closed.

AFI defers start of national competitions

The competition committee of Athletics Federation of India (AFI), at its meeting of August 28, 2020, decided to defer the start of national competitions.

According to a related press release, AFI had been hoping to resume competitions on September 12, 2020 with an AFI Grand Prix in Patiala. “ It would be advisable if the coaches redraw the training schedules of athletes. We are now looking at October end or early November for some competitions for seniors and late November for juniors,” AFI president, Adille J. Sumariwalla was quoted as saying. The National Open Athletics Championships, slated for September 20 to 24 and the Federation Cup, due from October 5 to 9, have also been postponed, the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Mumbai Ultra takes a break, organizes blood donation drive for Independence Day

Under normal circumstances, Independence Day would be the time for Mumbai’s annual rendezvous with the Mumbai Ultra. This year, the 12-hour run is taking a break due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and has organized instead a blood donation camp.

The camp will be held on August 15, 2020 at Veer Savarkar Smarak Bhavan, Shivaji Park, Mumbai, for a period of 12 hours from 8AM to 8PM.

“ We had to cancel this year’s ultra-running event because of the pandemic. As we have been associated with Tata Memorial Hospital for the past few years, I decided to call them and inform them about the cancellation. The director of the hospital spoke about the shortage of blood and asked us if we can organize a blood donation camp,” Naveen Hegde, one of the organizers of Mumbai Ultra, said.

The event’s organizing team then set about working on the logistics for the blood donation drive. Naveen expects around 500 people to come forward for donating blood. At the time of writing, over 450 people had registered to donate blood. Those seeking to register can get the relevant details on the event’s Facebook page.

If held, the 2020 edition of Mumbai Ultra would have been the seventh edition of the event.

Cancellation of the 2020 Ladakh Marathon now spans all race categories

The organizers of the Ladakh Marathon have confirmed that the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the event now spans all race categories.  On July 2, they had informed that the main Ladakh Marathon had been cancelled owing to COVID-19 but the two elite races in its fold – Khardung La Challenge and Silk Route Ultra – were under “ review” with a final decision expected by end-July.

A statement dated August 10, 2020, now available on the event’s website says that the cancellation includes Khardung La Challenge and Silk Route Ultra. “ The 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon scheduled for 10 – 13 September has been cancelled because of the COVID-19. All six races – Marathon, Half Marathon, 10 km, 5 km, 72 km ultra Khardungla Challenge and 122 km Silk Route Ultra stand cancelled for the year 2020.’’

It attributed the cancellation to the situation around COVID-19 and the India-China border tensions of the past few months. Ladakh is close to the international border. “ After undertaking a risk-assessment exercise a collective decision was taken to cancel the 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon as the well-being of our runners, the residents of Ladakh, our volunteers and staff remains our top priority,’’ the statement said, adding, “ all confirmed registrations for the 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon have been automatically transferred for a period of two years to 2021-2022.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 Paris Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris has been cancelled.

“ After having tried everything to maintain the event, we, alongside the Ville de Paris, feel obliged to cancel the 2020 edition of the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris and the Paris Breakfast Run. Faced with the difficulty that many runners, especially those coming from abroad, had in making themselves available for the 14th / 15th November, it was decided that it would be better and simpler for those concerned if we organised the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris in 2021,’’ an official statement dated August 12, 2020, available on the event website, said.

“ Those who were signed up for this year’s edition are, if they wish, already signed up for the 2021 edition. If not, they will benefit from a voucher, the value of which being equal to however much was spent on the bib and extra options or a reimbursement after a period of 18 months,’’ the statement said adding, “ we will be working side-by-side with the Ville de Paris to put on a 2021 edition that brings together the most passionate runners on the most beautiful streets in the world.’’

Reminder from World Athletics on the need to stick to shoe regulations

World Athletics has reminded that the recently introduced Rule 5 pertaining to the sole height of shoes will need to be adhered to if the results at national championships and domestic competitions are to be recognized by it.

“ As more athletes around the world return to the track for national championships, one-day meetings and other record-breaking attempts, World Athletics has issued a reminder to Area Associations and Member Federations today about the recently introduced Rule 5, governing competition shoes. The amended rule, which puts a sole height limit of 25mm on all shoes worn in track events of 800m and above in distance (including Steeplechase), came into force on 28 July 2020, when it was published. The rule does not prevent a road running shoe from being worn on the track but a 30mm or 40mm road running shoe cannot be worn for track events because of the 25mm limit. As this is a transition period, all results currently in the World Athletics database will be processed, but any result of an individual athlete who has worn non-compliant shoes for the race will be marked “Uncertified” (“TR5.5”). In the case of National Championships and other domestic competitions, for results to be validated and recognised by World Athletics for statistics purposes, such competitions must be held under World Athletics Technical Rules and Competition Rules. This means that Rule 5 of the Technical Rules must be applied in full for the competition results to be recognised by World Athletics as valid. To preserve the integrity of national records and statistics, the responsibility lies with the Member Federation to ensure that all athletes, officials and competition organisers are fully aware that Rule 5 of the Technical Rules will be applied in full. If a Member Federation or competition organiser permits an athlete to compete in non-compliant shoes, then the athlete’s individual results from the competition will be marked in World Athletics’ records and statistics as ‘Uncertified (‘TR5.5’) i.e. invalid. In some cases, this may apply to the entire race. Results achieved before 28 July, where an athlete has worn a shoe above the current track limits, are valid provided the results were achieved in shoes that complied with the sole thicknesses in the previous rule. For example, if an athlete wore 40mm non-spike shoe on the track or 30mm spike between 31 January 2020 and the notification and publication of change of rules on 28 July 2020, then the competition result is valid. The list of shoes that were submitted to World Athletics by manufacturers for assessment, and have been approved, will be published on World Athletics’ website shortly to assist Athletes, Member Federations, Technical Officials and meeting organisers,’’ a statement dated August 10, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

World Athletics publishes list of approved competition shoes

World Athletics has published the list of approved competition shoes, following the amendments to Rule 5 of the Technical Rules announced on 28 July 2020.

The list has been compiled following introduction of the requirement on 31 January 2020 that any new shoe an athlete proposes to wear in international competitions needs to be assessed by World Athletics.

According to a press release dated August 13, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, “ the list does not contain every shoe ever worn by an athlete but it does include some older models of shoes that manufacturers sent to World Athletics for assessment by its independent expert. The position with older shoes that are not on the list is that they still need to comply with the rule going forward. The athlete, or their representative, will need to ensure their older shoe complies with Rule 5.13 in terms of the maximum sole thicknesses for their specified event and any inserted plate or blade, including spike plates if relevant.

“ Under Rule 5 of the Technical Rules, athletes (or their representative) have the responsibility to provide World Athletics with specifications of the new shoes the athlete proposes to wear in competition. World Athletics accepts shoe specification and samples submitted by manufacturers for further examination. If there is doubt about a shoe (particularly shoes that no other athlete has) then athletes, officials and meeting organisers should first refer to the approved list.

“ If the competition referee has a reasonable suspicion that a shoe worn by an athlete might not comply with the rules then at the conclusion of the competition the referee may request the shoe be handed over for further investigation by World Athletics.

“The list of approved shoes will be updated regularly to reflect any new information received.’’

The list of approved shoes (as of August 13, 2020) is available as a link on the above cited press release, on the website of World Athletics.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)


This image was downloaded from the film’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

For many of us, lockdown has been an opportunity to reflect.

Among other things, you think of the meaning of life. Lockdown has been a bit like the prisoner’s existence except there was neither crime committed nor sentence decreed. But the effect was similar – the limits of our wanderings shrank and a prison cell took shape. Luxuries waned. For the first time, many of us understood what incarceration is. We started to value freedom. In literature, denial of freedom on scale is usually associated with totalitarian regimes. The dissidents imprisoned for their protest and later released or rendered martyrs for the cause, inspire governments promoting freedom and liberal views. This has been the cycle of events regularly portrayed in political literature.

It was curiosity of this sort that attracted me to the documentary film Citizen K. Plus the fact that as of 2020, democracy is in one of its most imperiled phases with growing sections of humanity only too willing to waive individual rights and instead regiment to preen as human shoal. Why do we do so? Why do we turn our backs on the lessons of history and play into the hands of potentially losing liberal government and personal freedom, both of which we know, are hard to restore once lost? For those like me, valuing freedom and appreciating it for exactly what it is, 2020 has been a bleak but thought provoking landscape.

So what is Citizen K all about? This 2019 documentary film deals with Russia; to be precise, the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It tracks the story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, erstwhile billionaire and among the richest men in Russia who belongs to the first generation of business oligarchs that arose from the ashes of Communism. Doing so, it gives us an inside view of how the phenomenon of Russian oligarchs came about; how that crony capitalism spread roots. Today we accept this well entrenched symbiosis between business oligarchs and politics in Russia as how the country is. The film shows you why and how it came about. It then leads you to the unsaid fault lines that shouldn’t be crossed in this arrangement. Khodorkovsky – a top oligarch – commits the error of voicing political opinion. This makes him appear a threat to Vladimir Putin, president of the country, whose rise was engineered by the oligarchs but who has since become his own master. In due course, Khodorkovsky is arrested and sent to jail. His giant oil company is merged with state owned enterprise. The billionaire’s wealth shrinks. A long drawn out legal battle to free him follows, much of it trashed by the state’s counsels. Eventually as part of his image building exercise, Putin embarks on a series of amnesties and freeing Khodorkovsky is one of the things he does. With life in Russia too dangerous for him, the businessman shifts overseas. He recasts himself as a political campaigner and emerges over time, a major critic of Putin’s administration.

Neither of the two main protagonists in this drama are angels. Khodorkovsky is a former oligarch, whose rise to riches will remain questionable. Such questions haunt Russian fortunes built up in the period around the Soviet Union’s fall. It was a case of a country that knew little of modern capitalism having lived behind the Iron Curtain for decades, suddenly required to put in place a new economic system using whatever it had at its disposal. The period following the disintegration of the Soviet Union was one of desperation and inequality, during which, the oligarchs exploited common people to corner shares of public enterprise. Through such beginnings in capitalism, Khodorkovsky created the bank that would later become his vehicle for building the oil company – Yukos. Putin on the other hand, was a candidate supported by the oligarchs in the wake of Communist echoes reviving in the declining years of the Boris Yeltsin era. He becomes president, does good work but also goes on to become an institutional entity that stalks the land like an unshakable, permanent political presence. Elections are held but it is a trumped up ecosystem in which the opposition is lame and you can’t be sure whether it is independent or propped up by the ruling formation for illusion of democracy. This predicament is Citizen K’s story.

It is an interesting documentary for multiple reasons, the most prominent of which, is a product of our times. There are shades of Russia – its penchant for personality cult, rule by strongman and appetite for business oligarchies – surfacing in other countries. The larger trend is what attracted me to Citizen K as a viewer; this issue of similarity in political aspiration across countries (it is a model going around), none of it healthy for freedom, economic equality and democracy. This is a film that makes you reflect on our age of undemocratic politics, the cult of political personalities and billionaire businessmen and ordinary people split between support for this formation and opposition to it, split between support for rule with an iron fist and rule by liberal government. Good documentaries hold a mirror to existence. Citizen K does just that. The film is available on Amazon Prime.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)   


This image was downloaded from the Internet and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Gymnastics was among sports included in the very first edition of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Since then it has become a major fixture with plenty of medals to be won. All sports, in their pursuit of excellence, have evolved talent search and training suited to their needs. A hallmark of gymnastics in this regard, has been the practice of grooming talent from a very young age.

As we increasingly surrender our life to competition, the greater is our tendency to create institutions and approaches so comprehensively dedicated to the theme that they offer scope for violations of other sorts, to be overlooked; even hidden. Worse in tune with such adages as “ no pain, no gain,’’ the violated believe that what they suffered was part of the process of learning to excel. Until somebody – a whistle-blower – declines to see the goings on in that paradigm, calls a spade a spade and opens up.

That’s how the sex abuse scandal linked to USA Gymnastics was first reported in the media in 2016 and investigations commenced into the conduct of their national team doctor Larry Nassar resulting in his eventual imprisonment and sentencing. Others, who were part of the institutional structure and whose actions delayed inquiry and justice, have also not been spared. Wikipedia’s page on Larry Nassar says that more than 150 federal and state lawsuits were filed against him, Michigan State University (MSU), USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and the Twistars Gymnastics Club. The entire board of USA Gymnastics resigned; the president of MSU and its director for athletics also resigned.

The aforementioned incident is the subject of the 2019 documentary film At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal. It is a comprehensive, sensitive account of the scandal. It focuses mostly on the cases surrounding Larry Nassar as that was the epicenter. The said offender and others like him could operate within a system where sport’s relentless pursuit of high performance and consequent traits like catch-them-young, meant the trainees were of an age when they lack the maturity to make informed judgements. That latter attribute – a social situation denying the young a say on what they feel – becomes in turn a shield in service of continuing the offence. Young gymnasts, who complained to officials concerned, saw their complaints ignored or treated cavalierly. As later depositions in court show, in some cases, even parents disbelieved their children. The mistrust caused strained relations between child and parent.

The film’s canvas includes the responsibility of major institutions and influential individuals within them, in prolonging the paradigm of abuse. It makes us think of the problem of institutional sensitivity tripped by focus on success and the perceived infallibility of those familiar for long to the system. The goal being chased and the experience (plus perhaps, the success) of those who went before, serve as prism trivializing the abuse that occurred. The all too often sold narrative is that success doesn’t come easy. What athlete experienced, suspected violation included, finds it tough getting past these walls and qualifying as complaint meriting serious attention. Slowly, what you overlooked gathers mass till one day you have a monster running amok and scars of damage all around. The cases that eventually tumbled out in the USA Gymnastics scandal spanned a couple of decades.

This is a relevant, insightful documentary. It is available on Disney-Hotstar.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)