Ace cyclist Deborah Herold has thrown her weight behind the sexual assault complaint filed by a top Indian cyclist pertaining to coach RK Sharma’s inappropriate advances towards her.
The coach who was fired on the back of the grievance is alleged to have made sexual advances toward a female athlete representing the Indian team at a training camp in Slovenia.
The unnamed Indian cyclist of the unit stated that the coach summoned her to his cabin, forcefully gave her a post-training massage, pulled her up against him and asked her to sleep with him.
Renowned Andaman cyclist Herold has now come out in support of the claim and has shared her terrible experience working and training under Sharma before she was dropped from the team on grounds of suspicion that she was in a relationship with another female cyclist.
National champions Herold recalled that she was targeted and harassed by the coach and his assistant, Gautamani Devi, as they felt the Andaman cyclist had developed a romantic bond with another teammate who also hailed from the same territory as the veteran.
Herold, an international gold medallist, cleared any such doubts regarding the accusation of her relationship with her compatriot stating that they were good friends and nothing more. And yet she was treated with snide comments and taunts from the assistant Gautamani.
Herold also disclosed an incident in which, one day the air conditioning unit in her room was malfunctioning and she had gone to a male colleague’s room on the floor above as a result. The coach who caught wind of this pulled her out and slapped her.
The cyclist also mentioned that she was dropped from the team after a stint of emotional and verbal abuse directed toward her and her alleged partner.
The toxicity in the camp had reached boiling point after a lengthy period of torment in which the Andaman cyclist was singled out and attacked on an emotional level.
She shared her experience of being picked on and reprimanded by the coach and the assistant for silly reasons and thus growing distant from the unit and withdrawn into her own. She mentioned that she would be blasted for interacting with her teammates
And naturally, such events took a toll on her performance and the showing of the team. To escape the clutches of such tormentors, she even switched disciplines and tried to contest the endurance programs after having participated in spirit events up until breaking point.
Gautamani Devi has defended her position stating that she did not choose to drop the champion athlete, but, did so on the reckoning of the federation.
The Cycling Federation of India stated that the selection process has always been dependent on the merit of the athlete’s performance and that it had not received any such complaints from Harold earlier.
Gautamani refused to identify the CFI member who had called the shots in this incident and stated that such grievances occur when the coach doesn’t concur with the actions of the athlete, which she sighted as the shortcoming of Indian sport.
Herold sincerely hoped that such events do not happen ever again in the world of sport and that a change in coaching culture was the only way to safeguard young athletes from going through what she did.