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When will we learn to respect our own coaches?

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The central government's confession through the Budget speech that the country faces a shortage of quality coaches exposes the fact that nothing much has been done to improve the standard of coaching over the last three-four decades. It also brings to the fore the need to change the prevailing mindset among our sportspersons that home-bred coaches are only good to play second fiddle to experts hired from foreign countries.

The importance given to foreign 'gyaan' is glaring even in sports like hockey and cricket where it has become a fashion to rely on foreign expertise, coldshouldering even the best of the talent in our country. "Before we invest Rs 250 crore to start the new centre-National Institute of Sports Coaching - to produce quality coaches, we have to take a hard look at what happened to the existing centres around the country run by the Sports Authority of India that were supposed to churn out coaches. There are around 400 students enrolled for the NIS diploma course in 10 disciplines and another 200 in other centres in the country. NIS has been producing coaches for the last several decades but over the years the curriculum got outdated with little effort made to upgrade the topics, facilities or the faculty, " a sports administrator, who didn't want to be named, told TOI Crest.

According to a study sponsored by the Planning Commission in 2002, the National Coaching Scheme was first introduced in September 1955 as Rajkumari Sports Coaching Scheme. After eight years it was merged with the National Coaching Scheme of the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. Renowned coaches like Joginder Singh Saini and Randhir Singh worked for the Rajkumari coaching scheme which operated from the National Stadium in New Delhi before it was merged with the NIS scheme. There was a time when NIS had reputed faculty, which included the legendary badminton player Wong Peng Soon, the first Asian to win the All England title in 1950.

At present there are around 20, 000 NIS trained coaches in the country with only a few thousand employed by the SAI and the state governments. The sad part is the even the best of coaches coming out of the various centres of NIS don't get the same respect as a hired foreign coach. This is reflected not only in their pay scales but also shows us how our sportsmen have been looked down upon.

Top coaches agree that there is a need to recruit foreign experts in disciplines like shooting where our coaches lack the technical expertise. But what about sports like hockey where we didn't give enough respect to top class coaches like Balkishen Singh, Cedric D'Souza or Joaquim Carvalho. Or for that matter Jude Felix, whose coaching skills are applauded only in foreign countries. Even in cricket, the likes of Robin Singh or Sunil Joshi are not rated at par with the Englishmen or Aussies.

"Balkishen was the one who introduced the twin centre-halves in hockey which was then put to best use by several top teams. But instead of encouraging our best talent in hockey we went after foreign coaches and continued to suffer, " a veteran sports writer said recalling India's last place finish at the London Olympics. Such was the apathy that Balkishen figured in of Arjuna award winners' list 11 years after India won the gold in Moscow.

According to former coaches and reputed sports administrators, the announcement to set up a brand new 'coach factory' is welcome, provided it is allowed to flourish with constant monitoring and review. Else, it will only replace the NIS coaching diploma with a new degree which will make no improvement in the existing standards.

Remember, the likes of Dhyan Chand, Milkha Singh, PT Usha and Anju Bobby George were not products of foreign coaches. It is time to put good use of our growing economic strength and harness our resources to produce quality coaches. One only hopes that the Union sports ministry will take adequate precautions to keep the project going irrespective of whoever is voted in to power in the coming months.

An overall look at the budget numbers may show a small hike in allocation for sports compared to the revised figures from the last financial year but it is big drop from the allocations during the time we were preparing to host the Commonwealth Games. Sports forms just a fraction of the rupee spent - just Rs 45 crore earmarked for urban sports infrastructure clearly proves why we continue to struggle to produce world and Olympic champions. Five years after Abhinav Bindra won India's first gold, we don't know when the next gold will come in the Olympics.

(With inputs from K Datta)

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