KOCHI: The Indian squad preparing for the Asian Athletics Championship has been hit by a fresh controversy. Muhammed Kunji, national coach of the 4x400m relay team, who also looked after the Rio Olympics athletes, has been told to hand over the charge of the runners to new foreign coach Galina Bukharina. Express had earlier reported that the army coach was served a notice by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), alongside chief coach Bahadur Singh and deputy coach Radhakrishnan Nair, for failing to communicate to the federation NADA’s surprise visit to the NIS, Patiala, in April.
The NADA team had recovered meldonium — a banned substance — from hurdler Jithin Paul, pushing the federation, that is hosting the continental event, to a corner.
As per AFI sources, the decision to remove Kunji from the post came during a meeting of the AFI top bosses in New Delhi on Tuesday. Though the meeting was held to finalise the team for the Asian Championship, Kunji’s case also came up for discussion. It is learnt that another meeting was held on Wednesday, where it was decided to remove the coach from his post.
The coach, however, remained tight-lipped when asked about the development. “I have received no communication from the AFI,” Kunji said. But sources close to the coach said Kunji is expected to leave the camp by Saturday. The AFI director ML Dogra said a high-level committee has been formed to look into the coach’s issue, but refused to divulge details of the reason for the sacking.
It’s also surprising how the coach alone ended up in the dock over the doping scandal, even though the chief coach and his deputy were also served notices. The decision came as a shocker for athletes, who were preparing for the biennial event that the country is hosting next month. Some of them pointed out that it would be difficult to get used to the training pattern of the new coach in a short time.
“We are shocked by this. How can this happen when we are approaching a big event. It’s really sorry to say that we are suffering because of this,” one of the athletes told Express.
Kunji was drafted into the national side in 2014 and has been training the men’s and women’s teams, first under the monitoring of Ukraine-born Yuri Ogorodnik, and later took full charge after the 81-year-old taskmaster’s service contract was terminated by the AFI under SAI’s instruction.
Meanwhile, NADA sources said the deputy chief coach’s room was searched by them during the surprise raid last month. “Apart from him, two or three more coaches’ rooms were also checked by us,” sources said.
However, the AFI came to know about the raid a couple of days later, when NADA intimated them. It was in this context that the coaches were served notices.