Lovlina Borgohain, who will be representing the boxing ring for India at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, took to Twitter on Monday to vent out her frustration when her personal coach, Sandhya Gurung, was denied entry into the Games Village.
— Lovlina Borgohain (@LovlinaBorgohai) July 25, 2022
Though the Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist’s tweet did not mention the authorities directly, it did seem to target the Boxing Federation of India, the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Ministry for not approving Sandhya Gurung’s accreditation.
“One of them is Sandhya Gurungji, a Dronacharya awardee. Both my coaches have had to request it countless times, even in training camps, before they are included at the last moment. At this moment, my coach Sandhya Gurung, is not even in the Commonwealth Village as she still hasn’t gotten an entry and my training process has stalled just 8 days before the games. My second coach has also been sent back to India,” she added.
Sandhya Gurung has been Lovlina’s strong support as a coach since 2012. She is the first Sikkimese to receive the Dronarchya Award, the nation’s highest sporting honor in the field of boxing, that too very recently in 2021. She has also been the national coach for more than five years and was chosen as ‘state icon’ by the Sikkim government in 2021. Lovlina credits her Tokyo Olympic medal to Sandhya Gurung.
In response to Lovlina’s tweet, the BFI (Boxing Federation of India) had said “the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) allotted 33 per cent officials on the total number of athletes. We have 12 athletes, so we got four officials. After that we made a request and got another four. This includes coaches, a doctor, physio etc. We put Sandhya Gurung’s name on the long list, we requested for her inclusion, the SAI also sanctioned her name, but the IOA is not doing it.”
Thereafter, an ANI tweet stated that the sports ministry has directed IOA to provide accreditation to Sandhya Gurung.
Sports Ministry intervenes, asks IOA to give CWG Village accreditation for Lovlina's coach: Sources
Read @ANI Story | https://t.co/g0sehvrkRp
#CWG2022 #LovlinaBorgohain #boxing pic.twitter.com/mzE0Bklkhv
— ANI Digital (@ani_digital) July 25, 2022
By Tuesday, Sandhya Gurung had received the accreditation and the boxer was seen thanking the minister and SAI for her coach’s inclusion.
truly thank@ianuragthakur sir and @IndiaSports, and @Media_SAI for the prompt and
rapid action to Include my
Coach Sandhya Gurung's
name in CWG acred.also grateful for SAl for
constant support for my
training since my youth.
Thank you once again to all
who have truly helped me
— Lovlina Borgohain (@LovlinaBorgohai) July 26, 2022
However, this is not the first time an athlete has demanded the presence of a personal coach, despite having a national coach and staff beside him/her. Thus, the question arises, why is the demand for personal coaches increasing and is it a legit demand? Especially, if you would know what went into providing accreditation to Lovlina’s coach, Sandhya Gurung, this question becomes more relevant.
To incorporate Lovlina’s coach, the team doctor goes out of Commonwealth Games village. That means, the Indian boxing contingent will compete at the Games without their team doctor. Now, team coach Dr Karanvir Chib’s accreditation has been changed to that of a ‘P-Coach’. That means Dr. Chib will not be allowed to enter the competition arena. In case of any injury during a bout, India will only be able to make use of doctors who are provided by the organisers themselves.
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Borgohain episode and the precedents
At the Tokyo Olympics, Vinesh Phogat, one of the most promising wrestlers in the 53kg freestyle (female), crashed out of the quarterfinals against Belarus’ Vanesa Kaladzinskaya.
After her dismissal, she complained of not having her personal physio with her during the main event, which led to her disappointing performance in Tokyo.
Phogat’s personal coach and personal physio were not given accreditation by India during the Tokyo Olympics. Her personal coach from Hungary, Woller Akos, has been training her since 2018 and could only manage to get last-minute accreditation through the Hungarian Olympic Committee at Tokyo. But Phogat’s physio was unable to get any accreditation.
Phogat was even suspended by the WFI (Wrestling Federation of India) over indiscipline and not following the ”code of conduct.” She later had to send an apology to WFI.
Upon losing in the third round of table tennis at the Tokyo Olympics, Indian star Manika Batra expressed her dismay when her personal coach, Sanmay Paranjpe, was given ‘P’ category accreditation, where he was allowed to be with her only during practice sessions. However, national coach Soumyadeep Roy was present in the main events, but the paddler refused to take his assistance.
After the culmination of the Olympics, when TTFI (Table Tennis Federation of India) issued her a show-cause notice. She leveled charges of match-fixing during the Olympics qualifiers against national coach Soumyadeep Roy.
This led to the Delhi High Court suspending the TTFI’s executive committee and ordering the appointment of an administrator to run its affairs.
Even Amit Panghal’s punches lost their flex in the pre-quarterfinals of the 52kg flyweight boxing event at the Tokyo Olympics. He had to participate without his childhood coach, Anil Dhankar.
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Where the IOA stands
Arjuna Awardee and former Indian boxer Rajkumar Sangwan said, “The demand of Amit Panghal to have his childhood coach on his ring-side at the Olympics is not legit as whatever he has achieved so far is credited to his national camp training under national coaches.”
But Lovlina Borgohain’s case is anything like that. Sandhya Gurung has single-handedly raised Borgohain to the Olympic podium. She has been the national coach for about 10 years. So why did BFI remove her just after she won the Dronacharya Award? Why was she not included with the Indian contingent team for CWG 2022,” questions Sangwan.
However, Sangwan agrees that on some occasions, the athletes’ demand for personal coaches and staff despite having national coaches is not right.
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The limiting factor
As per the rules, every sports federation appoints a national coach, head coach, and related staff for every national camp and sporting event.
Before coming to national camps, athletes are trained under their local coaches. Then, there are many private and government companies that come forward to sponsor promising athletes with all sorts of facilities, from providing personal coaches, physios, to even foreign training.
Whenever any big event like the Olympics or CWG happens, national coaches and staff get first preference over the personal staff of individual athletes. At these events, the accreditation categories for staff also varies. For instance, in the Tokyo Olympics, ‘P’ category staff was allowed only during practice sessions. The other category was of the “essential” staff. The number of accreditations in each category is limited.
When shooter Abhishek Verma’s coach and Dronacharya awardee Jaspal Rana (junior national coach) was not included in the ‘essential’ category, it caused controversy during the Tokyo Olympics.
It is due to such limitations in approving accreditations that the appointed national coaches and staff by sports federations get first preference over athletes’ personal choices.
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Which ones should make the cut?
Now, it is not like national coaches do not contribute to the athletes’ performances.
Mirabai Chanu’s, Tokyo Olympic silver medallist in weightlifting (women’s 49KG), childhood coach was Anita Chanu, and when she moved to Patiala national camp, Vijay Sharma became her coach, who was appointed as the national coach by the federation. Mirabai Chanu attributes her major achievements to national coach Vijay Sharma, whether Gold in the 2017 CWG or Silver at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Thus, national coaches do have credit for the merits of the athletes. But is it the same with every athlete and sport? One cannot vouch for that wholly. With the changing dynamics of the sport, its training regime, and the government’s attitude, athletes are now more focused on bringing in the right trainers to their side.
Neeraj Chopra insisted on having Germany’s Klaus Bartonietz as his coach, which led the Athletics Federation of India to sign him for a long-term engagement. Neeraj even asked for Klaus’s contract extension, and that’s the reason he trained under him for the World Athletics Championships 2022 as well, where Neeraj clinched a historic silver medal for India.
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Knowing the boundaries
Rajkumar Sangwan, however, said that sometimes athletes do take advantage of their stardom and insist on unnecessary accreditation of their personal coaches or staff or even family members, which should be avoided. “We have national coaches and since the focus is more on sports, we cannot afford to diminish the value of national coaches. After all, athletes train under him/her. ”
At the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Saina Nehwal threatened to pull out of her event if her father’s accreditation had not had ‘official’ category to it. Later, the federation gave her father the listed accreditation.
The question also arises as to why athletes have to go to such extremes to make their demands meet. If the demand by Saina Nehwal is not under the limit, what does one have to say about the way the Wrestling Federation of India handled Vinesh Phogat’s issue and suspended her on the grounds of ”indiscipline”?
Lovlina’s demand to have her Dronacharya Awardee coach Sandhya Gurung seems like a legit outcry since Sandhya has been the national coach for 10 years and was recently removed after the induction of Bhaskar Bhatt as head coach for the Indian women’s boxing team. But is it legit enough to have her coach at the expense of the doctor missing from the ringside for the entire Indian boxing contingent at CWG 2022?
We hardly see such issues in team events, but in individual events, the challenge is right here. That is, to incorporate the demands of individual athletes in a way that does not hamper the medal prospect.
The solution to such reoccurring demands is to seek a balance between the ambition of athletes to win medals without compromising on certain parameters and also maintain the dignity of national coaches and staff.
Sooryanshi is an independent journalist based out of New Delhi. She tweets @UnfilteredSP