Dutee Chand: Fighter, dreamer, movement for change

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After her impressive performance on the junior circuit in 2014, the following two years have been quite an eventful one for Olympic-bound sprinter Dutee Chand, giving shape to a remarkable story. One moment she was basking in the glory of her twin gold medals at the 2014 Asian Junior Athletics Championshipsand then, suddenly, she found herself embroiled in a bitter controversy that threatened to bring her blossoming sprinting career to an abrupt end.
Apparently after an anonymous complaint, the Athletics Federation of India, without informing Dutee what they were up to, conducted tests on her and subsequently banned her. A heartbroken Dutee would later find out that those tests were done to specify her gender and she had hyperandrogenism – a condition in which the body produces large amount of testosterone which under the guidelines of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) makes her ineligible to participate as a female athlete. She was banned in 2014.
Jolted, Dutee decided to challenge the verdict in the Court of Arbitration for Sport(CAS). On July 25, 2015, CAS overturned the ban, suspending the hyperandrogenism rule. The 20-year-old made a remarkable comeback after being out of competitions for a whole year to break the national record and qualify for theRio Olympics.
In 2014, during the gender controversy, my name was removed from the national team. I was asked to leave the camp and wasn’t allowed to take anything back (sporting gear, etc.). After I started producing results following the comeback from the ban, I think nobody knew whether I had all the necessary sports gears to train for Olympics participation. Also, these are expensive and I don’t have enough money to buy them. So I had to plead with the government (for shoes and tracksuit). Now I have received everything that is necessary and I am pretty happy about that.
So are your preparations going smoothly now?
Yes they are fine now. I leave for Rio on Wednesday, my competition starts from August 12 and I have been training well for it. Let’s hope everything falls in place. I have received full support from everyone – be it from the government or private organisations.
You come from a humble background. How tough was it to get where you are today?
There are five members in my family. My parents used to struggle to put food on our plates. Whatever little money they got, we had to make do with it. I hadn’t had good food. As a kid, I didn’t even know what non-vegetarian food is because we never had it prepared in our house. Also, it was also difficult to train. I didn’t have shoes, so was forced to run barefoot. I didn’t have the right clothes to train as well. In winters, I used to shiver while running but had to run anyway. But today when I look back, I feel very happy and satisfied that the struggle has amounted to something. We didn’t even have our own house. There was just one room where we all lived. But today I have built a house for my family.
Take us through the phase when you were declared ineligible to compete as a female
athlete.
That was a dark phase. I was heartbroken and under immense mental pressure. I actually didn’t know or care who was saying what about that. And I blocked out everything. My single aim and dream during that time was to work towards regaining my pride and return as soon as possible to competitions. One thing I have learned is that I shouldn’t care about what others have to say about me now.
What prompted you to train at the Gopichand Badminton Academy after being asked to leave the national camp in 2014?
After I was thrown out of the camp, I was facing difficulties while training at home. I wasn’t part of the national team and wasn’t receiving any funds. So I contacted my personal trainer (Nagpuri Ramesh) to help me continue with the training. He lives in Hyderabad and asked me to come there. He recommended my name to the Gopichand Academy. Pullela Gopichand was sympathetic after he learnt about my issue and offered all the necessary help and facilities without charging a penny.
And then you broke the national record en route to Rio qualification …
I broke a few records after the comeback but they don’t matter much to me honestly. I am more interested in winning medals. In fact, I had to anyway break the national record (then 11.38 secs) to ensure qualification. I am happy that I was able to do that. This has been a good year for me.
While countries smaller and poorer than India are producing champion athletes, we are still failing to produce a world-beater. Why do you think it is so?
Athletics isn’t considered a profitable business in India. When you talk about cricket, football or hockey, players are given better facilities that enable them to perform better which in turn will draw more people and then sponsors. So they attract money. But even when an athlete ends up performing well, he or she doesn’t see the same happening for them too. An athlete has to train all by himself and perform for the country. I think this is because people in India don’t consider it as a commercially profitable event. Corporates don’t seem interested in pumping money for individual athletes.
My dream is to see athletes also getting the same recognition, fame, success and money as cricketers, footballers and hockey players get in India. I am not saying that government should be the only one supporting us. The private sector has to come forward too and chip in. When this happens, we will start winning Olympic medals in athletics regularly.
If you were given charge of the sports ministry, what changes would you implement to improve the state of sportspersons in the country?
I would first of all like to change the mentality towards sports in general. Cricket is treated differently in a way from other sporting events. They are well trained, celebrated and get good money. I would work towards ensuring similar if not same level of facilities and rewards for all athletes. Whatever they need that will help them improve their performances be it a gym, supplements, nutritional food, tracks etc. I will make sure everything is available and that they don’t have to run from pillar to post and they only invest their energies in right places. Another dream is to enter politics and serve the country because without power what can you do?
I don’t have any idols, though my sister Saraswati Chand is the one who has been with me all the time be it good or bad and provided her full support. She has taught me so much. After she got a job, she supported me financially. I started training at an early age. In fact, I was four when I first started running. My elder sister used to support me right from the beginning, helping out with everything. Eventually I started liking running more and today whatever I am is because of these 16 years of hard work.

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