Political interferences, a threat to commit suicide and the possibility of litigaton are some of the road blocks that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has been left to grapple with, as it begins its biggest-ever reshuffling drive in close to a decade. The SAI plans to transfer more than 200 coaches from various disciplines to its under-staffed centres across the country.
The drive has, in fact, already begun. In the last two days, SAI has already packed off 108 coaches across 13 sports to centres where they are facing shortages, while another 100 are expected to receive their transfer orders by Monday. The purpose, SAI director general Jiji Thomson said, is to ‘rationalise the set-up’ and bring down the instances at the centres where there are several trainees but no coaches.
But the process is not so straightforward. The last time SAI undertook such an activity, it faced a fierce backlash from several quarters. In 2005, SAI ordered transfers of 746 coaches but the entire exercise was stalled after they managed to get a stay order from the court.
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This time around, a woman basketball coach threatened to end her life if SAI forced her to relocate. The coach, a widow, argued she had to look after her young son and there was nowhere else to go for him if she was to be transferred. Similarly, an athletics coach suffering from cancer too has requested SAI to exempt him. “We have to be compassionate as well while taking such decisions. So we decided to stop their transfers,” Thomson said.
Acute coach shortage
A study conducted by SAI earlier this year revealed that they are at least a thousand coaches short across all disciplines. SAI currently employs only 1,154 coaches for close to 11,000 athletes who train at the 100-plus centres spread across the country.
There have been instances at several centres where athletes have been recruited for training programmes but there were no coaches available at the particular venues. The slow recruitment process has also contributed to the dearth of coaches. SAI appointed 174 coaches for 16 disciplines in February this year, which was for the first time in 20 years that fresh coaches had been appointed.
So far, football (21) has seen the maximum number of transfers followed by hockey and volleyball (15 each). Athletics, badminton, basketball, cycling are amoung other sports that will see the re-allocation of trainers, starting Monday. “This is an attempt to ensure that the situation doesn’t arise once again where we have trainees at a particular centre but do not have coaches. We do not claim that this is a perfect thing but this is an honest attempt to rationalise the set-up,” Thomson said.
Taking a hint from the litigation episode during the last attempt at re-shuffling, SAI has released the transfer order this time in four different batches so that if an aggrieved coach approaches the court, only that particular batch will be impacted instead of the entire process.
Several coaches enjoy either political patronage or make good use of their strong connections. SAI is expecting that the large-scale shuffle will be met with a strong resistance from the coaches yet again. But Thomson insisted they won’t backtrack on the decision. “We have taken this decision keeping in mind the need of the hour. We have to ensure all our centres are functional and for that, it is essential to have coaches,” he said.