The NHRC has issued notices to the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), days after a woman cyclist accused the chief cycling coach of “inappropriate behaviour” during a training camp in Slovenia, according to a statement on Friday.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which took suo motu cognisance of the matter, sought a detailed report from the ministry’s secretary and the SAI director-general.

“It is strange to know that instead of reining in the coach, the Sports Authority of India reportedly chose to bring the victim back to India thereby depriving her of training overseas for which she had been selected,” the rights panel said in the statement.

It said the right to dignity of the victim has purported to have been violated, considering the fact that a coach and sportsperson have a fiduciary relation, where a coach is reposed with the trust to look after the well-being and welfare of the sportswoman.

The commission has observed that the matter, if true, amounts to human rights violations of the victim sportsperson.

Reportedly, as per SAI, the complainant was immediately brought back to India mid-way through her training to ensure her safety. The SAI has prima facie found the allegation as true, it said.

The commission sought to know the status of the physical as well as mental health of the victim, as well as action, if any, taken against the responsible officer, including the coach concerned, within four weeks. The commission would also like to know whether any specialised counselling has been provided to her by the authorities, it said.

The SAI on Wednesday had terminated the contract of the chief cycling coach after a preliminary enquiry found him guilty of “inappropriate behaviour” with the female cyclist during the training camp in Slovenia.

The SAI had taken the decision hours after it had decided to call back the entire Indian contingent from the European nation where the cyclists had gone for a training-cum-competition trip.

The victim, who reportedly had feared for her life due to the alleged harassment and requested to get back home, has already been brought to the country, keeping in mind her safety.

Issuing the notices, the NHRC has further observed that the Government of India has been sincerely focusing on optimum participation of women in every field, including sports, art and culture. There have been various guidelines issued to ensure the safety and security of sportswomen during their training and sports activities.

The commission is also of the opinion that if the allegations mentioned in the news report are true and no action is taken by the authorities with regard to such incidents, other female sportspersons will not only feel unsafe but will be reluctant to complain against perpetrators in future for fear that they may also be called back mid way during their training, it said.

The subject also falls under the ambit of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, which categorically defines in Section 2(o)(iv) that the workplace includes any sports institute, stadium, sports complex or competition or games venue, whether residential or not used for training, sports or other activities relating thereto. The SAI is, therefore, also under the obligation to get the matter probed as per provisions of the Act, it added.

According to media reports, the woman victim was part of the Indian team that was in Slovenia to prepare for the Asian Championship, which is scheduled to be held in New Delhi from June 18-22.

“Allegedly, the coach forcefully tried pulling her towards him and asked her to come and sleep with him and threatened to destroy her career, if not conceded to his demands,” the statement said.

Reportedly, when the victim could not tolerate the advances and explicit sexual overtones made by the coach, she spoke to the CEO of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS, who booked her return ticket for June 3, 2022). The victim has mentioned in her complaint that the coach has destroyed her mentally and emotionally, which is now impacting her sporting performance.

She has reportedly sought the strictest possible action against the coach not only to ensure her safety but also the safety of all others, especially the female athletes, the statement said.

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