A couple of days ago, a committee led by Virender Sehwag recommended Khushbir Kaur for the Arjuna Award. Kaur has emerged as one of the best race-walkers in the country and was the first woman athlete to win an Asian Games medal in 2014.
Much of her recent success was attributed to Russian coach Alexander Artsybashev, who has been with the team since 2011. However, on Saturday, he was ignored for the Dronacharya Award even as the sports ministry-appointed committee recommended the late national coach Ramakrishnan Gandhi for the award. Gandhi was the coach of Gurmeet Singh, who became the first Indian to win the Asian 20km gold last year. Gandhi and Artsybashev are credited for triggering a turnaround in Indian race-walking, which has grown in leaps over the last four years.
But the country’s policy to ignore foreign coaches for national sports awards continued as the committee recommended Heeranand Kataria (kabaddi) and Paralympics coach Satyanarayana for the Dronacharya Award apart from Gandhi. Artsybashev wasn’t the only foreign coach who was ignored.
It is learnt that the sports ministry was keen on rewarding wrestling coach Vladimer Mestvirishvili and shooting coach Heinz Reinkemeier. The duo has been ignored for Dronacharya despite playing a stellar role in Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Abhinav Bindra winning Olympic medals. Even though they were not nominated by their federations, the ministry chose to propose their names.
As per the rules, the sports ministry can recommend two names for the award. According to sources, the government was keen to ensure that Vladimer was feted, considering he ensured three wrestling medals (Sushil’s bronze and silver at Beijing and London Games along with Yogeshwar’s bronze in 2012).
However, the Pullela Gopichand-led Dronacharya awards panel decided against it. “The committee was unanimous in its opinion that foreign coaches get paid well. So these awards are more valuable for the Indian coaches. Hence, the committee did not consider Vladimer and Heinz for the award,” a source said.
Meanwhile, women’s chief wrestling coach Kuldeep Malik’s nomination was debated but the panel did not vote in his favour. Malik claimed he had coached Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik. However, another coach – Mandeep Singh — claimed he was Sakshi’s coach since childhood and hence, he should be given the Dronacharya.