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Coaching couches in Indian sports
I was staying at the residential wing of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with my five-year-old son. One night around 12 am, the security guard knocked at my door. He was accompanied by a girl in a tracksuit, who he said was looking for Mr Rana (name changed). I knew Mr Rana, the secretary of a National Sports Federation (NSF), was staying at the stadium. He had come as a member of the selection committee of the federation to select its women's team for an important international meet. A few days later, I saw the girl again at the stadium wearing India colours and boarding the team bus for the airport.
First it was the manager of the team and then the coach - both women reported to me one after the other for medical attention; both sported black eyes and scratches on their faces and hands. It was apparent that they had had a fight. The coach confided in me that the manager, who was in no way connected with sports, was planted in the camp by the president of the concerned NSF. Her job was to smuggle the girls out of the stadium after the last light and take them to the president who was camping close by.
This practice went on despite the protests by the coach, finally leading to the scuffle. After this incident, the coach was removed from the camp and the manager was given the India blazer. Even now, that person continues as president of the same federation and also doubles up as the chairman of its selection committee. He pitches his tent near the training camps when the selection trials are scheduled.
Commonwealth Games training camp: Surprisingly none of the members of the state team which won the national championship in the current year figured in the list of CWG probables in a particular sport. The coach of the state team said her girls were petrified of joining the training camp as long as Mr Shah (name changed) remained the president of the federation.
Come to sports and get India colours' is a slogan which can captivate youngsters and help them save money. After all, it costs Rs 50 lakh as capitation fee to get a management quota seat in a medical college or Rs 20 lakh for an engineering seat. For a Class III or Class IV post in a government organisation, one has to pay a bribe of a couple of lakhs. No money? Sports is the way out. Youngsters from poor and lower middle class families get into sports with the ultimate goal of getting permanent government jobs.
Those from the upper middle class and upper class come to sports and select glamorous or less strenuous sports to grab the sports quota seats in colleges or to migrate West through sports scholarships. But we can still find a few youngsters who take up sports for the sheer love of it. Thus, we can cherish the achievements of an Abhinav Bindra, a Viswanathan Anand, a Saina Nehwal or a Leander Paes.
Those who come to sports aiming for jobs or to grab admissions in colleges become sitting ducks for devious sports officials and coaches. Many of the girls are bold and tactful enough to resist the advances of such people. Tribal girls are smart in this regard. They tend to live together and move in a group and also confide in their colleagues when someone tries to take advantage of them.
Bold girls survive but many still face constant harassment and some of them ultimately succumb to the lure of the India blazer. Thus, the infamous 'Casting Couch' syndrome of Bollywood gets going in sports too, where sexual favours are asked or offered. There are instances where coaches try to hold on to junior girls on the argument that the girls are "promising" . Their sinister design goes unnoticed. Netball is a game played by women only. But in our country this game is administered by men who never played the game.
Acting on the recent reported cases of sexual harassment in hockey and weightlifting, the sports ministry should frame a code of conduct for coaches and selectors. The National Commission for Women should also come forward and formulate guidelines to protect sportswomen against sexual harassment.
Keeping aside the Olympic Charter debate, the government should direct the NSFs to constitute women-only selection committees for selection of women's teams. This should also be the rule in the case of mixed gender sports like swimming, athletics, cycling etc where both men and women teams are to be selected. For training women teams, the chief coach should be a woman or, if it is a man, then he should have women coaches to assist him.
The NSF office bearers should not double as members of the selection committee. There is no dearth of women Olympians, Arjuna awardees, Asian and Commonwealth Games medallists who have the experience and expertise to become selectors or coaches. Fifty per cent of the elected office bearers of NSFs should be women to safeguard the interest of female athletes, who incidentally win more medals at the international level than men.
(Dr P S M Chandran, president of the Indian Federation of Sports Medicine, has been the doctor of Indian contingents for Olympics and team doctor of Indian men and women's hockey, football, boxing and wrestling for over 25 years.)
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