Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain’s complaint regarding the absence of her personal coach Sandhya Gurung at the Games Village ahead of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games is not the first of its kind incident surrounding Indian athletes especially in multi-sport events.
“Every time my coaches who helped me win a medal at the Olympics have been removed from my training process and competition. One of these coaches, Sandhya Gurung ji, is also a Dronacharya awardee. Despite thousands of requests, they are always allowed late for my training. This hampers my training and puts me through a lot of hardships and mental harassment,” Lovlina wrote on Twitter.
At the Tokyo Olympics last year, there were at least three instances of athletes complaining about the absence of their coaches or other support staff.
Manika Batra vs TTFI (2021)
On July 26, 2021, after exiting the women’s singles in round of 32 of the Tokyo Olympics, Indian table tennis player Manika Batra in an interview to Sportstar had expressed disappointment over not being allowed her personal coach in her corner for the singles matches.
“Our national coach here (Soumyadeep Roy) is Sutirtha’s personal coach, so it helped her. I think if my personal coach (Sanmay Paranjape) could also sit for my matches, it would have helped a lot,” Manika had said.
"Sanmay knows my game and I would prefer that Sanmay would advise me (in singles). Once that didn’t happen, I thought I would play alone since Sanmay and I were devising strategies ahead of every match and he was also telling me from the gallery," she added.
Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) secretary-general Arun Banerjee though had said that Manika knew even before arriving in Tokyo that it was impossible for her coach Sanmay to be in the arena for her matches. “Even before we left, she knew that her coach had P category accreditation, which means he had access only for practice facilities,” Banerjee had said.
As much as her and A. Sharath Kamal’s exploits on the table hogged headlines, the empty chair in her corner emerged as a bigger talking point of India’s table tennis outing in Tokyo.
Amit Panghal vs BFI (2021)
Amit Panghal, who went into the Tokyo Olympics as the top seed in the men’s 52kg category, was without his childhood coach Anil Dhankar. BFI said Panghal was told well in advance that his coach would not make the cut. The Federation had agreed to send Dhankar to the training camp in Assisi, Italy while stressing that he will not be travelling to Tokyo. Dhankar is a 1-star level AIBA-certified coach.
“On that basis, we had sent a long list of members of the coaching and support staff we intend to send to the Olympics to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). The IOA then sends the list to the International Olympic Committee and everything is registered. Once the long list is registered, we can subsequently reduce but cannot add names to it. Panghal’s coach’s name was not part of this list. Panghal intended to take his coach at a belated stage and by then the long list had been frozen,” the official said.
Panghal was knocked out of the Tokyo Olympics with a 1-4 loss to Rio Games silver medallist Yuberjen Martinez in the pre-quarterfinals of the men's flyweight (52kg) category.
Vinesh Phogat vs WFI (2021)
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat found herself in a heap of controversy during the 2020 Olympics as neither her personal coach Woller Akos nor physio Poornima Ngomdir was allotted accreditation for the Tokyo Games.
Hungarian coach Akos, who had been training Phogat since 2018 and been by her side as she won a bronze at the 2019 world championships would eventually get an accreditation card only through the Hungarian Olympic Committee.
“Is it a crime to ask for one physiotherapist for four women wrestlers when there are instances of one athlete having multiple coaches/staff? Where is the balance? We have asked for a physio long back and not at the last moment,” the wrestler had said in a tweet.
While Phogat would take to social media after her request for a personal physio was rejected, it was a futile effort. After she eventually crashed out of the Olympics in the quarterfinal, she would be suspended by the wrestling federation of India for a host of charges which were likely due to her public protest on the lack of accreditation given to her physio.
With inputs from Y.B. Sarangi and Jonathan Selvaraj