Coach Issues Haunt The Athletics Federation of India Yet Again

Published : 9 May 2017 4:45 AM GMT
Coach Issues Haunt The Athletics Federation of India Yet Again

At loggerheads with the Sports Ministry and the Athletics Federation of India, the national Javelin coach – Garry Calvert, considered as one of the world’s leading officials in javelin throw, has resigned according to a report in The Indian Express. As per Calvert, the Sports Ministry and the Athletics Federation of India failed to notice his demand for a four-year contract and a salary hike. Garry took responsibility as the national coach in February 2016 after the South Asian Games.

He was offered a two-year contract however the Sports Authority of India asked him to prepare a draft of the coaching plan till Tokyo Olympics to which Calvert requested for a contract extension. “The best practice is to have four-year cycles from one Olympics to another. This is prevalent across the globe. From last September, I’ve been requesting authorities to extend my two-year contract to four. Contract security is basic in any field. When I approach the SAI, they push me to the AFI and vice versa. For seven months, I have waited to hear, but they haven’t responded,” Calvert told the Indian Express.

“Resigning midway through a contract with the Asian Athletic Championships just a few months away (in July) and the World Championships later this year, he has been unprofessional as the athletes have been left in the lurch so close to two big events. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) would have looked at giving him a new contract based on the performance of athletes at the World Championships. He has an ongoing contract and by resigning he has violated the contractual obligations”, quoted a top sports ministry official while talking to The Indian Express.

Lack of job security compelled Calvert to quit. He has now signed a four-year contract to guide China’s already strong contingent for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It won’t be wrong to state that India has lost a gem. According to reports, his resignation was accepted spot on! Isn’t this a shame to the nation? “He used to send email after email asking for a new contract. If his intention was to blackmail us, it did not work. There are other international coaches we can hire. There is no question of asking him to reconsider his decision because he has already resigned”, the Sports Ministry official had said. Instead of being about sportspersons, the Indian sports management is busy handling ego issues of its authorities.

The Australian has also been a coach to prominent athletes like Jarrod Bannister, who threw 89.02m in 2008. Garry has played an instrumental role in improving the calibre of javelin throw in India. It was under his guidance that 19-year-old Neeraj Chopra qualified for the London World Athletic Championship to be held in August this year with a throw of 83.32m. He was also the force behind Neeraj Chopra’s captivating performance in the 2016 Under-20 World Athletics Championships in Poland where he recorded an 86.48m to win India’s first ever gold. Losing a coach with such supreme knowledge of the sport will probably end up doing huge damage to the Indian athletics ahead of the World Championship in August as well as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

This is not the first time that a foreign coach has resigned midway. (Photo: News 18)

Back in 2015, middle and long distance coach Dr Nikolai Snesarev had sent his resignation papers to the AFI just before the Rio Games. The revered Russian coach cited poor state of infrastructure, facilities and coaching standards as the primary reasons for his drastic decision. India athletes ended up giving a poor result at Rio. Prior to this, Snesarev, who brought out the talent of Lalita Babar (3000m steeplechase) and O.P. Jaisha (long distance runner), had parted ways with India in 2011 after the sports ministry refused to agree with his demands of salary hike. Derek Boosey who was appointed as India’s high-performance director for athletics had put in his papers within seven months stating that he was no longer “comfortable” continuing the job. He was expected to be with the Indian contingent till the end of the 2020 Games and was responsible for the development of athletes at the grass root level, arranging national camps; opportunities of international exposure for top athletes and appointment of coaches.

A common observation of these coaches – No dearth of talent, lack of good administration

What happens to athletes in such cases? It is the athletes who have to bear the brunt of the situation. Suddenly caught in a limbo, it is them who suffer the most. Devastated, they have to cope with the mess left behind by the mismanagement of the sports authorities and their lack of planning. The athlete-coach relationship plays a vital role in an athlete’s sporting experience.

Gary had set some goals for Neeraj, the rising superstar. These goals were to be achieved during the year and their practice sessions were planned accordingly. Now what? Everything has come to a standstill till a new coach is assigned. Frustration seeps in and in turn, takes a toll on the athlete’s performance. Being comfortable with the new coach and adjusting to the new concepts is not easy. All these issues render an athlete helpless. The Sports Ministry which should ideally clear the way, itself acts as a huge hindrance to an aspiring athlete’s journey to excellence.

Neeraj Chopra broke the world under-20 javelin record last year. (Photo: Athletics Weekly)

The nation needs guidance from foreign coaches because when it comes to athletics the Indian coaches are still amateur. But apparently maintaining bonds with overseas coaches is something the authorities are failing at. If that is the case, instead of spending crores on foreign coaches, why not groom domestic coaches instead! Why not invest in giving Indian coaches a proper exposure.

Even the most successful Indian coach, Pullela Gopichand, during his days as a player would train under Wang Xuyan and was absolutely in admiration of the Chinese way of coaching. He credits this international exposure for his growth in the sport! His success as a national coach is evident as well. There will be a ceaseless debate on whether the nation needs foreign coaches or Indian coaches. But in the meantime, the administration should come up with opportunities and incentives to encourage players to take up coaching after retirement. The authorities need to keep their administration in check.

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