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FALL FROM GLORY

Out of favour in the outback

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For Indian athletes hailing from the hinterland, the stakes are very high.

The fall from glory in their home towns will be tough for the tainted athletes.

Ashwini Akkunji Chidananda, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose, the glory girls of Indian athletics who journeyed from remote moffusil pockets to international podiums, today find themselves stranded in a discredited corner, likely to lose their role model status in their home towns.

Arjun Devaiah, star sprinter and Asian medallist, from Ponampet village in Kodagu district, says these athletes are likely to lose their standing in their local communities. Devaiah, a qualified lawyer, has seen the small-town mindset at close quarters and believes that the athletes are going to have a tough time explaining their taint to folks back home. The former athlete who has done his Masters in industrial relations and personnel management, spends much of his time giving motivational speeches in professional colleges.

Devaiah believes that small-town India looks at its big achievers with the kind of unforgiving awe it reserves for movie stars. "But you can either be a villain or a hero. When these girls brought gold and glory they were heroes, now that they carry a taint, they will simply be seen as fallen heroes. Parents will now think twice before allowing their daughters to take up athletics. They don't analyse, debate or think a situation through in these places, they just don't want to know the why and what of it. "

Noted sports psychologist Chaithanya Sridhar, who worked with the Indian athletics squad at the Busan Asian Games in 2002, says that since the issue is now out in the open, it is important for society to step back and take a look at the full picture. She believes that it is important to put in perspective the relationship between athletes and their coaches.

"Athletes are very close to their coaches, more so when they're from remote areas. Over the years, because of the time they spend with one another, a coach becomes the only family they actually know. Most of them will do anything the coach tells them to do, " she says.

Devaiah is optimistic about the future of these athletes. He believes that once they emerge from this cloud, they can regain lost ground with some mentoring. "Even if someone like Ashwini gets banned for two years, she's so gifted that I would say that she can come back a couple of years from now, stronger than ever, " he says, adding, "She just needs someone to guide her through the storm. It is not the end of the world and these girls need to be told that. Tomorrow is a new day. "

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