Adille Sumariwalla has the gift of the gab and the knack of manipulating the media. The Athletic Federation of India's president ran faster than he did his 100m dash in his heyday by running down Indian coaches, saying they are just not good enough to produce international athletes.
During the ongoing inter-state athletic meet in Lucknow, he inexplicably chose to berate the coaches, adding that they are capable of training only school and college-level athletes. While delivering his sermon he made sure the handful of media persons got him right, saying that he would give it in writing!
For the head of a national sports federation it is clearly unbecoming of him to run down his own coaches, who, with in their limitations and
resources, strive to make their contribution by hunting for talent right from the grassroots level.
Not that it would wash, Sumariwala should have at least added a rider to his outlandish statement by saying that this is his personal view and should not be taken as that of the AFI.
His flippant remark would hurt some 16 Dronacharya awardees, some of them in their graves. He should at least recognise that they have been honoured
for working diligently to produce international athletes, unless he credits the athletes' achievements to some of those dubious overseas coaches.
The list of dedicated and famous coaches includes his own guru Jal Pardiwala and Ilyas Babar, who alone produced 17 gold-medal winning athletes in the Asian Games and Asian Track and Field meets. Surely, Babar saab's distinguished protégé Sriram Singh will be the first to join issue with Sumariwala for his uncharitable comment about Indian coaches.
Sumariwala himself was the product of a think-tank of Indian athletics which also taught at the Netaji National Institute of Sports in Patiala. Joginder Singh Saini and Kenneth Owen Bosen were great servants of Indian athletics and there are quite a few former internationals like Gurbachan Singh Sandhu and Ranjeet Bhatia, to name a couple, whose contribution cannot be discounted. Of course, one or two little-known coaches slipped through or were deliberately allowed to make the list.
In the case of athletes Anju Bobby George, Krishna Poonia and Neelam Jaswant Singh, their husbands made great sacrifices and they were recognised
by bestowing on them the honour, unless Sumariwala believes that they received the award for chaperoning their spouses to international meets!
Sumariwala is not done yet. He made the startling statement that the he doesn't expect the Indian athletes to surpass the medal tally they achieved
at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games when they go to Glasgow next month for the next edition.
You don't need great intelligence to make the prophecy. He should have known, or he has said knowingly, that a host country always wins more
medals in familiar home environs. Still, credit must be given to the athletes for creating history by coming up with two gold, three silver and
seven bronze medals in New Delhi.
It is also no-brainer to state that the New Delhi performance was preceded by better planning and a considerate government which pumped in huge sums
for camps and competitions.
His grouse is that the government was not receptive to their proposals in the Long Term Development Programme. After 2010, he says, the government
attitude was not what it was before the 2010 Games.
What Sumariwala failed to mention that the federation itself was busy with its own election and the Indian Olympic Association shenanigans. The AFI de facto chief and its strongman, Lalit Bhanot, was waging his own wars in the courts and with the establishment over the preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
Whatever be his sins as the secretary general of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, Bhanot's work as AFI secretary general was pretty
professional and he had a say at the international level. His voice was heard and he did work for the betterment of athletics in the country. He had a
good rapport with all stakeholders and everyone acknowledges his power and zeal to get the work done.
Sumariwala should realise that even the government listens to people who deliver, not those who pontificate after sending one of those routine
letters. Just as the AFI was in limbo, even the government was caught in a web of its own creation and it was busy attending to more serious issues
than to check the antecedents of a Belarusian coach.
Sumariwala also spoke like a good politician by attacking the previous government and welcoming the new ruling class with sweet words. He made a
pointed reference to the infrastructure the Modi government developed in Gujarat.
If he could get things done with the Modi government, the country's athletes would be thankful to him, letting him off with a mild rebuke for his insulting remark about Indian coaches.
(07-06-2014-Veturi Srivatsa is Sports Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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