Livid with detractors for casting aspersions on her achievements because of a dope-tainted past, Asian Games gold medallist discus thrower Seema Punia said she has been ‘ill-treated’ by authorities, including the national federation, for many years now.
Seema, who won a gold in the just-concluded Incheon Games, said despite being a top performer for the country in the past 14 years, she received step-motherly treatment from the authorities.
"I am a junior World Championships medallist. I have won medals in three successive Commonwealth Games (2006 to 2014) before I won a gold in Incheon. I have brought laurels for the country for the past more than a decade in my long career and I thought I deserved better treatment but I have been looked upon with suspicion whenever I have achieved something. This is not fair," 31-year-old said.
Seema was stripped off her gold medal in 2000 World Junior Championships in Santiago after testing positive for a banned stimulant -- pseudoephedrine -- though she had claimed at that time that it was due to a medicine she took for common cold while on her way to Chile from India.
She was issued a warning but two years later, she won a bronze in the World Junior Championships in Jamaica. Later, she was embroiled in another doping controversy just before the 2006 Asian Games and she withdrew, citing ‘ill-health’ of her father.
"I will not look back and I hope to prove my detractors wrong. Now my ultimate target is winning a medal in 2016 London Olympics and if I do that, I think my detractors will be silenced," said Punia, who returned home from South Korea.
"I heard some people talking about whether I was tested before going to Glasgow CWG and Asian Games. But I want to ask how would government and the federation clear me without testing. I underwent testing by NADA before these two events. I gave the sample after returning from the United States training and then before the Asian Games."
The Haryana-born athlete, who held the national record (64.84m) from 2004 to 2012, said she had to train at home for the whole of last year after the NIS Patiala refused her request to accommodate her in a separate room along with her husband and coach Ankush Punia, also a former international discus thrower.
"I requested the NIS to provide a separate accommodation with my husband inside the NIS as a few other athletes were doing the same there but the head of NIS said no. I and my husband were allotted separate rooms in the girls and boys hostels but my husband's room did not have an air conditioner. So, we left the NIS and trained the whole of 2013 at home in Meerut," said Seema who married Ankush in 2011.
"I trained at the sixth battalion Police Training Centre in Meerut the whole of 2013 and was deprived of top-class facilities in the country. Since, I had to train for myself outside the national camp I had to spend a lot of money. It was really hard for me as I earned just over Rs 30,000 and my husband is not working," she said.
Seema, a Haryana Police sub-inspector, said even the Athletics Federation of India did not treat her well as on two occasions, she was left out of international events despite finishing on top in the trials.
"First in 2007, I was not taken to Asian Championships in Jordan despite finishing first in the selection trials while other athletes who finished behind me took part."
Seema also lamented the apathy of Haryana government which did not fulfil its promise of promotion to her.
"After I won the bronze in 2010 Commonwealth, the Haryana government promised to give promotion but nothing happened and now I have to see whether I can get a promotion after winning the gold in Inchoen."
The new star of Indian athletics was, however, all praise for the Sports Authority of India and Mittal Champions Trust head Manisha Malhotra for helping her financially in her foreign training trips.
"I was earlier sponsored by Mittal Champions Trust but it has now stopped sponsoring athletes. But its head Manisha Malhotra spent money from her own pocket for my foreign training in 2011 and I am really grateful to her.
"SAI sent me for training in the United States before the 2012 London Olympics and then for three months before Glasgow Commonwealth Games," she said.