KOCHI: When an athlete, call her ‘X’, got a call-up to the national athletics camp in Patiala in November, she thought her career was on an upward curve.
With India gearing up to host the Asian Athletics Championship in July, all she wanted was attention from a seasoned coach so that she could prepare well for the event. Having parted ways with Ukrainian Dmitry Vinyakin, the Athletics Federation of India had said they would rope in former Services sprinter Sanjay Ghosh as national coach. The camp started on November 22, 2016.
But the expectations of X soon turned upside down. She had to train without a coach as Sanjay didn’t turn up. She was miffed, like everyone in the group of seven — four men and three women. But they could do little. To speak their mind meant inviting AFI wrath.
“It was bad. Being in the camp and not getting proper attention and training. The Asian Championship is an event where we can achieve something. We were told an experienced coach would be at the camp. It was just a hope which didn’t materialise,” said a member of the men’s squad.
With no sprints coaches in the vicinity, AFI asked 400m national coach Muhammed Kunji to look after the seven athletes. Already having 16 quarter-milers under his wings, he was asked to spare time for the sprinters.
A senior 400m runner training under Kunji termed this a makeshift arrangement. “He was already fully occupied with us. We were 16 (nine men, seven women), and even that was too many for him to handle. On top of that, he had to prepare a training programme for the sprinters and see that it was implemented. It was bizarre, considering it was happening in a national camp,” an athlete said.
Kunji said he had looked after the sprinters after Ghosh couldn’t turn up because of job-related issues. “When it became hectic, he insisted the AFI brought in someone else. He is the coach of a priority event, but was forced to handle two! It’s ludicrous,” another SAI coach from Patiala told Express.
Finally, after three months of dawdling, the AFI has brought in V Vijay of the Indian Navy. But athletes feel too much water has flown under the bridge.
Meanwhile, two prominent sprinters — Dutee Chand and Srabani Nanda — are training outside Patiala NIS. Dutee is with N Ramesh at Hyderabad SAI, while Srabani is in the US. The irony is that the AFI, six days back, made it mandatory for athletes to train in national camps for selection in the national squad.