Olympics 2021: India's foreign coaches set for extended contracts

The Sports Authority of India is ready to extend contracts of foreign coaches across multiple disciplines in the wake of 2020 Olympics postponement.

Bajrang Punia's coach Shako Bentinidis (right) contract ends in 2020 as the WFI looks to extend it until 2021.   -  Special Arrangement

Their stints were supposed to wind up after Tokyo 2020 Olympics this year but with the mega-event postponed till 2021, several foreign coaches training Indian athletes for Tokyo are set for extended tenures as they seek to complete their “unfinished mission”.

Whether it’s women’s wrestling coach Andrew Cook, shooting’s celebrated pistol coach Pavel Smirnov, boxing’s duo of Santiago Nieva and Rafaelle Bergamasco or athletics’ high performance director Volker Herrmann, their contracts were to end after the Games.

But the Games will have to wait for a year thanks to the raging COVID-19 pandemic. This translates into contract extension for India’s coaching imports in the “interest of continuity” and the process will be initiated once the national lockdown to combat the pandemic comes to an end.

“It’s the Sports Authority of India (SAI) which pays their salaries. We have to speak with them...They also know that these are extraordinary circumstances, so I don’t see any problem in getting extension in contracts for them,” Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Secretary VN Prasood told PTI.

The WFI had roped in American Cook for women wrestlers and Georgian Temo Gabishvili for the Greco-Roman grapplers. Recently, the WFI had also taken the celebrated Bajrang Punia’s Georgian coach Shako Bentinidis under its wings.

“The situation will be clear once this 21-day lockdown is complete,” Prasood added.

READ: Tokyo Olympics postponed: IOC has taken a good step, says Indian boxer Pooja Rani

The national governing body of shooting -- NRAI -- also does not foresee any problem in getting longer contracts for Smirnov and rifle coach Oleg Mikahilov. Their tenures were to end in August this year as the Olympics was scheduled from July 24 to August 9.

“There will be a review for sure. Naturally we will likely approach them (SAI) to give our coaches extension of their contracts. The president (Raninder Singh) will decide once the office opens but we would like them to continue with us,” an NRAI official said.

But are the coaches ready to accept these extended tenures? At least, those involved with boxing are.

“My contract with SAI runs out in December but I will stay back if offered an extension. It’s taken a lot to get the results and can’t really leave without crossing the line, can we? I will accept a longer contract if offered,” said Nieva.

The Boxing Federation of India said it is happy to oblige given that an unprecedented nine pugilists made the Tokyo cut in the very first qualifier tournament.

“All foreign coaches associated with us will get extensions. In fact, the Ministry wanted us to have them till the 2024 Games for continuity. So, it won’t be a problem but we have to wait for the lockdown to end,” said a top BFI officials.