Indian Sports Ministry recently removed the salary cap of Indian coaches and decided to offer four-year contracts to help them complete a full Olympic cycle. Even though the decisions taken by the ministry might not have an immediate impact, it will have help Indian sports immensely in the long run.
The Indian Sports Ministry’s bold move to de-recognize all 54 of its National Sports Federations (NSFs) came as a shock to many, including the associations of course. Just weeks later, the same body has come up with a couple of far-sighted resolutions, one of them no less than a masterstroke - the sports ministry has played its cards strategically this time, to say the least. First, they’ve lifted the salary cap of ₹2 lakh on Indian coaches and then implemented the practice of offering four-year contracts to coaches, to complete an Olympic cycle as a part of India’s long-term road-map for the 2024 and 2028 Games.
Already frustrated after losing their annual recognitions, the NSFs found themselves in dire straits during the lockdown. But the ministry has finally reacted to their long-standing appeals recently, which would give them a reason to smile for the time being. The abolition of the salary cap would not only reward the Indian coaches for their consistent hard work but also encourage many ex-athletes to take up coaching roles in the near future. While the arrangement to offer four-year contracts to existing coaches and new entrants may not make an immediate impact, it will, however, help Indian sports immensely in the following years.
The previous rules would see coaches get their contracts renewed annually, which often led to frequent changes in the managerial department. As a result, the athletes have had to adjust to the temperament of the new coach, which in turn hampered continuity, growth and their level of performance. Moreover, the approach varies for each of the coaches, which at times becomes daunting for the athletes, shifting to new methods all together. Now, with four-year contracts in place, theoretically, the athletes will be able to maintain continuity under their deputed trainer. Especially at a time when the athletes were forced to go on break for months, the existing coaches are aware of the progress of these athletes have made and can according build a regiment post restart.
We have actually learned from past experiences how the annual contracts can have a devastating knock-on effect for the players. The former head coach of the Indian Table Tennis team, Massimo Constantini, suddenly stepped down from his post due to personal reasons after India’s heroic run at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 Asian Games. Since then India have been without a proper head coach for the better part of the last 18 months until the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in March. Canadian Dejan Papic, who was apparently offered a one-year contract last July, could not visit India owing to his knee injury, which has caused a further delay.
Upon further research, it was learned that the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) was on good terms with Papic and the Canadian was expecting to reach India in the early months of 2020. But administrative delays because of the 2019 elections played a big part as there was no communication between the two parties for a long time. So, when the contract letter finally landed in July, Papic had already consulted the doctor and booked his cartilage replacement procedure, and insisted that the TTFI hire someone else who can start working with the players immediately. In the midst of the whole mishap, it was the athletes who lost out the most.
“Most teams employ coaches for a four-year Olympic cycle. So when he suddenly left, we had only limited options to choose from and even that did not work out for us. Going forward, we have decided to hire a coach for four years instead of renewing his contract every year,” said TTFI general secretary, MP. Singh, back then. Unfortunately, if the approval was given back then in real, we could have averted the unfavourable situation.
Recently, Indian women’s wrestling coach, Andrew Cook was sacked by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) after he fled back to America because of the Covid-19 outbreak. While the foreigner joined the camp back in July 2019, he still cannot figure out why he was ousted from his position, even though the grapplers performed exceedingly well at the 2018 Asian Games. WFI accused Cook of refusing to participate in the online sessions conducted by Sports Authority of India (SAI), but, on the contrary, he woke up at 3 am (USA local time) regularly to conduct the sessions. The falling out between foreign coaches and the associations has been a lingering issue and what could have actually have solved the problem was offering longer contracts to them. Now, with the policy enforced recently, we hope - that it’s better late than never.
The proposed contracts would be given on the basis of the performance of the coach and recommendation from the respective NSFs. Even though the tenure of the coaches will be equivalent to a four years deal, their contracts would be reviewed annually based on the coach’s overall output over the same period. It’s not only the athletes who need to keep pace with the standards, but the same measure will be applied to their trainers as well. Overall, the four-year cycle would help the athletes recognize their shortcomings and also hand their trainers enough time to rectify and then subsequently improve their skills simultaneously.
This systematic approach, which is a part of India’s long-term roadmap for Olympic preparation, would or rather should help athletes improve their game immensely and it may even enhance their chances on a global stage. To say the least, the Indian contingent would be in better shape to contest for a podium finish in the upcoming multisports events. With Kiren Rijiju expecting India to finish at the top 10 of the medals tally at the 2028 Olympics, there isn't a better time to implement policies that have the long term interests of Indian sports. What was a mere tally of just two medals in Rio, we can definitely keep our hopes high to see a vast change and a flurry of medals eight years down the line.