The trouble for national cycling coach R K Sharma, who has now been dismissed from the position, escalated on Thursday as former star Deborah Herold complained about being “slapped” and “harassed” by the former and his assistant.
Sexual harassment charges were levelled against Sharma by a top cyclist last week, who as per a report in the Indian Express alleged that the coach had offered her a “post-training massage”, asked her to “sleep with him” during a camp in Slovenia, among others.
Herold, who comes from Andaman, said she was removed from the national team because the coach’s assistant Gautamani Devi believed that she was in a relationship with another female cyclist.
“She (Devi) thought I was in a relationship with another female cyclist, and harassed me a lot. She taunted, ignored and isolated me from the rest of the cyclists. Eventually, I was removed from the national camp. In truth, there was nothing like it… we are just good friends,” Herold was quoted as saying in the report.
27-year-old Herold is the current national champion and international gold medallist. She has been part of the India set-up since 2012 and her training under Sharma began in 2014.
The report mentioned that the Andaman based cyclist didn’t have any issue initially. However, a year later in 2015, Herold claimed Sharma slapped her twice, when she had gone to a male cyclist’s room, who was staying on the floor above her.
“The AC in my (hostel) room was not working. So, I went to the room of one of the boys from Andaman on the floor above mine. Sir found out and slapped me — twice. I didn’t think about it much back then and I do not think a lot about it now. Whatever happened, happened,” she was quoted further in the report.
Herold also stated the environment under Sharma to be “toxic”, which prevented the cyclists to deliver their full potential. Opening more on the treatment by Sharma and his assistant, the cyclist said: “The assistant coach and the chief coach harassed us mentally. It affected me so much that I started losing weight because I couldn’t eat properly… I was pulled up if I spoke with any teammate, male or female. If I bumped into someone in the dining room, I would be shouted at. It reached a stage where, on some days, I started eating (alone) in my hostel room. I was singled out and harassed for no fault of mine.”
The report also quoted Devi, who mentioned that she was acting as per the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) directions. “I did what the federation told me to do. These are all old issues that are resurfacing now, I was acting in the best interest of the country,” she said.
Besides two other active national team members have informed the Sports Authority of India’s Internal Complaints Committee that Sharma and her assistant had “threatened and harassed” them “constantly for years”, which subsequently has affected their performance.