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Lifters glad to be rid of coach Sandhu

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
August 25, 2004 21:15 IST
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Weightlifters, both men and women, are happy to see the back of Pal Singh Sandhu, erstwhile national coach of the Indian team.

Union Sports Minister Sunil Dutt sacked Sandhu and the team's foreign coach, Leonid Taranenko of Belarus, after two women weightlifters, Sanamacha Chanu and Pratima Kumari, were caught for doping and expelled from the Athens Olympics.

"I am innocent," Sandhu protested to reporters in Athens when he learnt of the sports minister's order. "The government should have waited for my return and heard my side of the story."

But that is not a sentiment weightlifters share. "I am glad the mighty Sandhu has finally gone," said one of the 20 athletes practising at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

One of the lifters picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on a small signboard, No Drugs At All, a resolution the Indian team in Athens would have been well advised to stick to.

Officials of the Indian Weightlifting Federation were conspicous by their absence. A locked office greeted reporters who visited the IWF office at the stadium to look for information.

"No, Pratima Kumari is not staying here. We have no clue whether she is in Delhi or has gone back home," said an official manning the residential wing of the stadium.

Kumari and Chanu have accused Sandhu of giving them banned drugs to boost their performance. Sandhu in turn said Kumari used to stink of liquor whenever she came for practice.

Meanwhile, the sports ministry has asked the Indian Olympic Association and the IWF to file details of Taranenko's contract. The ministry has asked why the coach was chosen from Belarus and not elsewhere.

Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament from South Delhi and president of the Indian Archery Association, has demanded the appointment of a retired high court judge to go into the allegations of doping and expose the entire sordid drama.

"I once saw a story on a television network which showed how syringes were found at the Nehru Stadium in dozens. I feel the time has come to unearth the whole truth behind the doping scam," he said.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi