Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on Tuesday said "there can't be any discrimination" as he weighed in on the tougher COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Japan on India's Olympic-bound contingent, saying a formal complaint has been lodged and the issue will be addressed. (More Sports News)
With the pandemic still raging, the Tokyo organisers have prescribed stricter regulations for travellers from 11 countries including India for the Games beginning July 23.
The Indian athletes and officials have been asked by the Japanese government to undergo daily COVID-19 tests for a week prior to their departure and not interact with anyone from another country for three days upon arrival, strictures that have left the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) fuming.
"...as per the Olympic charter there can't be any discrimination with any country. Any discrimination has to be addressed," Rijiju said in an online interaction with media.
"I have asked the IOA to register a formal complaint with the Tokyo organisers which they already did. We will strongly raise any issue which affects our athletes preparation and chances.
"The Olympics are happening under challenging circumstances, it's a challenge for everybody," he added.
The IOA has asked the Tokyo Games Organising Committee to allow relaxations in the COVID-19 test protocols, citing the logistical hassle it would cause for the athletes and officials before their departures.
"...our priority is to ensure safe and secure environment for the training and participation of our athletes. We have to ensure that our athletes are not in any mental stress," Rijiju said.
The minister reiterated that he is "completely satisfied" with preparation for the Olympics and expects the country to register its best-ever medal haul. India's best performance in the Games came in 2012 when the country returned with six medals, including two silver medals.
The count dipped to just two in the 2016 edition.
Highlighting the ministry's efforts for the Tokyo Games, Rijiju said the government has spent Rs 1,100 crore in the last four years for the athletes' preparation.
"I personally feel whatever should be done and could be done has been meticulously executed. Our athletes have been given the best platforms," he said.
"We have spent Rs 1,100 crore for preparation through the ACTC in the last 4 years, including funding for athletes under TOPS. India has not been counted as a major force in Olympics.
"...but this time I feel India should do better than previous editions. In fact, we will be sending our largest contingent to Tokyo."
He, however, refrained from making predictions on the medal count.
"We are doing everything keeping in mind maximum medals. But as a sports minister I am not in a position to predict our medal count. Our expectations are high. Lets us hope this Olympics turns out to be a memorable and successful one," he added.
"We are behind you, you just go and deliver," the minister said in his message to the Tokyo-bound athletes.
The BCCI on Sunday pledged a donation of Rs 10 crore as support for the country's Olympic-bound athletes, and Rijiju said the money will be handed over directly to the Indian Olympic Association which will decide how to utilise it.
"Any Indian if can should support the Olympic movement, whether private or government entity. The BCCI is a resourceful body and they have willing agreed to support the Olympic movement.
"I had a meeting with BCCI officials and they (BCCI) will be directly handing over the money to IOA for other expenses and management. The expenses are high and the ministry and Sports Authority of India are always there as support," he said.
Rijiju also revealed that because of the pandemic, the ministry will be organising a virtual send-off ceremony next month for the country's Tokyo-bound athletes.
"As per tradition there is always a send-off but this time public send-off is not possible because of the COVID. So we will organise a virtual event and I will also request the Prime Minister to join us.
"The event will be organised before the first contingent leaves the country for Japan between July 17 and 18," he said.
The minister also assured that all Tokyo-bound Indian athletes will get vaccinated before leaving for Japan.
"Most of the athletes have got the first dose and the process is on for their second dose.
"Initially we faced some difficulty for the athletes who are already training outside and will fly directly from their training bases to Tokyo because every country has their own rules regarding vaccination," he said.
"So we had to use our Indian missions there for their vaccinations."