India hand foreign coaches contract extensions till Tokyo next year

To ensure continuity and understanding with athletes, overseas coaches, paid by the sports ministry, will stay put

By Subhayan Dutta

Aiming to keep Indian athletes’ training and progress smooth with the Tokyo Olympics a year away, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has extended contracts of the foreign coaches until September 30, 2021.

As many as 32 foreign coaches, across 11 disciplines, have received an extension, most of whom would have seen their contracts expiring by this September.

All foreign coaches are paid by the government and work as per programmes made by the respective national federations.

"The postponement of Tokyo Olympics by a year makes it imperative that the same coaches be retained so that athletes are not disadvantaged in any way,” Indian sports minister Kiren Rijiju reasoned.

“A new coach takes time to understand an athlete and the athlete needs time to understand the training process of a coach. We don't have that kind of time now," the minister explained.

It’s a view that was echoed by former Indian hockey team captain Viren Rasquinha, who called for the ‘chopping and changing’ to end.

“You always need a little bit of time with the coach to implement his plans. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Viren Rasquinha told the Olympic Channel.

“It takes time to work, especially with teams. You don’t get overnight success,” Rasquinha had said.

Amongst the big-name coaches to receive contract extensions are Santiago Nieva and Raffaele Bergamasco in boxing, Graham Reid for men’s hockey and Pavel Smirnov for shooting among others.

Kiren Rijiju has said that the foreign coaches will next get contract based on NSF's review

SAI’s Olympic vision

Kiren Rijiju had earlier informed that the coaches - both Indian and foreign - will be hired on a four-year or an Olympic cycle basis for athletes to continue preparations unhindered. The decision was taken to keep India’s medal chances high at the 2024 and 2028 Olympics.

While the current contract extension remains a temporary fix until the Tokyo Olympics next year, the National Sports Federation (NSFs) will decide the next course of action for the coaches based on performances.

“We have extended the contracts of these foreign coaches on the recommendation of the respective NSFs,” a source told PTI, “All the terms and conditions, including the remunerations, remain the same.”

SAI’s statement also revealed that although it will be a four-year contract, the coaches’ overall performance will be reviewed annually “indicated by the performance of athletes in major international events.”

Before all Olympic qualification events were suspended in mid-March, India saw as many as 74 athletes qualifying for the Tokyo Summer Games.