The pressure on India’s star athlete, Hima Das, to attend government and private functions across the country is severely affecting her training, according to Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille Sumariwalla.

Clarifying that the Junior World Champion from Assam wasn’t to be blamed for taking frequent breaks from the ongoing pre-Olympic national camp in Thiruvananthapuram, the AFI chief said: “Sometimes there is pressure from the highest sources and officials (to attend functions). Athletes are not able to resist the pressure. They are being used. The AFI is finding it increasingly difficult, we want to protect athletes. One of the reasons why we send athletes overseas for training is to keep them away from all these events.”

Over the last fortnight, Hima has been away from the camp, attending events in three cities.

  • November 30: Khelo India Youth Games launch at Guwahati, where she shared the stage with the Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
  • December 5: India Today Conclave in Kolkata.
  • December 13: YPO South Asia Regional Conference in New Delhi, an event that also had table tennis star Manika Batra and Minister Rijiju.

The AFI president said the public appearances of elite athletes needed to be planned better and well in advance. “If we know in advance, we have no problem because we understand that an athlete has to do certain things. If they are getting paid and they have to devote ‘X’ number of days, the schedule needs to be in place in advance. It can’t be last minute when the athlete is in the middle of an important training period. I am very clear about that,” he said.

Sumariwalla added that Hima’s training would have been hampered further had he not refused at least two other requests of her presence at events.

“I am saying athletes must give back and must be a source of inspiration for youngsters, especially somebody like Hima who is a youth icon. Having said that anybody who wants her to be at an event must sit with the federation in advance and we can put out the dates for the whole year, say when she has just finished a big competition like the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games or the Olympics Games, then we have a window there. For example after the World Championships we gave people rest or a break for 15 days,” the former India sprinter turned official said.

Read | Nikhat Zareen ‘worried’ about fairness of Olympic selection trials

Commenting on the impact of long breaks on Hima’s preparedness for Olympic qualification events, a member of her coaching staff said that each day lost in training pushed her back by a week.

Pressure to attend frequent events affecting My training | Indian Athlete Hima Das

“The best athletes around the world don’t deviate from their training schedule. If athletes like Hima are expected to win medals at the international level and bring glory to the country then such distractions should be avoided as it is draining for an athlete and disrupts the training schedule. If it is a must to have an athlete at a promotional event, then it should be held in the same city as the training base of the athlete which will ensure minimal time is wasted in travel,” the coach said.

Hima became a global star when in 2018 when she won the world junior gold at Tampere in Finland in the 400 metres.

The athlete, who is from Dhing in Assam, set the national record of 50.79 seconds en route to winning gold at the Jakarta Asian Games last year.

A recurring back injury put paid to her plans of qualifying for the 400 metres for the World Championships this year, but she is on a comeback trail aiming to make the cut for the Tokyo Games.