Hockey

Feels like I’m back from exile: Akash Chikte

Akash Chikte.

Akash Chikte.

Akash Chikte describes his time away from hockey as ‘vanvaas’. He has, after all, spent the last year and a half in exile, out in the professional wilderness. Early in 2018, the goalkeeper from Yavatmal, Maharashtra was establishing himself as a reliable deputy to P.R. Sreejesh in the Indian men’s team. And then his world fell apart.

In March that year, Chikte was suspended by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. He was first banned for two years, a punishment later reduced to 13 months because the offence was found to be unintentional.

On Sunday, Chikte played his first competitive game since the HWL Final in Bhubaneswar (December 2017), turning out for Army XI against the Indian Air Force team in the Dolo-650 Bangalore Cup here.

“It feels like my ‘vanvaas’ has ended,” he says. “Nobody supported me all these months. No one called me. It was as if everyone forgot me suddenly. I was hurt. One day I was playing for India. The next day, it was all over. It felt like a dream. Everyone was saying I had doped, people were saying that I did drugs. I was shocked; I was someone who didn’t even take protein supplements. I couldn’t sleep.”

Recollection

Chikte recalls what happened in vivid detail. In February last year, he was struck on his left foot by a ball, causing his little toe to swell up. Meanwhile, back home in Yavatmal, his father had fallen seriously ill and had to be operated on for a clot in the brain. Chikte rushed home. At a local hospital, he consulted a doctor for his toe injury and was given an injection. Chikte had no idea what was in it.

“I told him I was a professional sportsperson. He clicked a photo with me, even put it on Facebook. He was MBBS, so I thought he’d know what to give me and what not to. Amid the stress of the hospital visits, I forgot to mention the injection in the doping control form. The fault is mine,” he sighs.

Tough days

The days that followed the positive test were tough. “People would tell my parents, ‘Your boy takes drugs.’ They were crying. They thought I had done something wrong and got caught. They weren’t looking me in the eye. Then, I explained everything to them.”

At first, Chikte trained on his own, at the Balewadi stadium in Pune. He practised after midnight, asking boys from the local academy to fire shots at him. “I couldn’t sleep. I used to cry. So I thought it was better to train,” he says.

For Chikte, the Bangalore Cup is the first step on his journey back to national reckoning. “My first goal was to clear the stain that was on me; and I have done that,” he says.

“Now my goal is to play domestic tournaments and the Nationals, and hopefully get back to the Indian team. At 27, a goalkeeper is still young.”


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Printable version | May 28, 2022 7:46:16 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/feels-like-im-back-from-exile-akash-chikte/article28984365.ece