New Delhi: A country where sport is still not considered a viable career option, incidents of sexual harassment of female athletes by their coaches could discourage parents from sending their daughters to stadiums, fears India’s sports fraternity.
Such issues must be handled wisely by the authorities, is the common refrain from current and former sports persons.
A female cyclist recently shared her harrowing experience in Slovenia, where the contingent’s chief coach made attempts to sexually harass her.
The cyclist was flown back to the country by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), on her request, and the coach was sacked and is facing an investigation.
Many Indian athletes are still unaware of the incident but expressed angst when they were told about it.
The country’s top archer Deepika Kumari urged the authorities to ensure female athletes’ safety and exhorted her colleagues to bring to light such incidents without fear.
“This is utterly shocking. You should remove these persons. We have a free culture in sport where both boys and girls practice together, stay under one roof as they feel it is very safe,” the world number 3 and three-time Olympian said.
“Parents these days are reluctant to send their girl child to sport. If such things keep coming up, then they will stop sending them. So it’s for the authorities to remove the culprits far away from the sport. Safety is of utmost importance.” “As for athletes, they should always speak out with confidence. Maybe they fear for their career and reputation, and suppress the matter in some cases. But this way you are giving more freedom to these coaches.” The SAI has already made it mandatory for National Sports Federations (NSFs) to keep women coaches in the contingents if the female athletes are competing, both at home and abroad.
Shooter Manu Bhaker said before the instruction was issued, the practice was being followed in her sport.
“We always have a female coach or a manager accompanying us on tours. So I think every other discipline can also follow a similar practice to ensure the athletes are well taken care of,” she said. “Else these incidents can have a negative impact and affect the performance of athletes. I am sure they (coaches) are also briefed about this crucial aspect.” Former India captain and BCCI Apex Council member Shantha Rangaswamy advocated the need to have more women involved in running of the sport.
“In Karnataka cricket, we have female support staff for all the age groups. If we get more females into the game, not only it makes the environment safer it also helps them blossom in their coaching careers.
“At the national level, I hope in the next five years we have an all-women support staff in the Indian team. The head coach can be male but the rest of the support staff should definitely be female. If they can excel at the domestic level they can excel at the India level too,” she said.
There are a few athletes who are still unaware that such an incident has happened.
“No, I have not heard about this incident. We are focussed on our training. And such things have not happened in wrestling,” said Sarita Mor, the world championships bronze medallist.
Three-time Olympian Laishram Bombayla Devi says the process to appoint coaches should be made better so that such elements do not enter the system.
“We never faced such an issue in archery. It’s hard to believe and feels bad. The solution to this problem is to screen the coaches properly before their appointments. The committee should do a proper background check before appointing someone.
“Most of the NIS coaches come out after participating in just one state meet or so. It has become very simple to become a coach, especially at the junior level. To keep a qualified coach is very important so the onus is on the authorities to be strict while appointing them,” she said.
Sardar Singh, former India hockey skipper and now a coach with the national men’s team, said such incidents “bring a bad name to Indian sports”.
“The step taken by SAI to make it mandatory for a woman coach to accompany women athletes on tours and national camps is a welcome move.
“This should have been implemented earlier. The women athletes, particularly who are in individual sports, will feel safe now and share their problems with the lady coach.” “If you talk about hockey, the players always travel or camp in a big contingent. We always used to have a woman support staff with our women’s team. Now the coach is also a woman (Janneke Schopman).” Ravi Shankar, who was India coach at London 2012 Olympics and is the current chief archery coach at SAI centre in Kolkata, said the latest incident is “a big blot to our coaching fraternity”.
“You also start feeling ‘guilty’ for being a coach. A coach is like a father figure to the ward. I’ve been coaching for 32 years now. I was with the men’s team earlier and now looking after the women’s team in different age groups. Deepika was also under me and toured with me for about 16 years.
“Till now she calls me ‘Papa’, that should be the relation, the mentality between a ward and the coach, then only you can become a successful coach. Trust and belief play a big role.” Shuttler Parupalli Kashyap said there is no place for “such persons”.
“No one should get away with this. A country like the US has gone through this, and are supposedly ahead of us. Women athletes are mentally strong, they find solutions immediately to problems but sometimes they are not able to express as they feel embarrassed. It reaches a point where you don’t express yourself, you feel under pressure.
“So a quick action will only give confidence to others, it is really sad. I am happy that it has come out in the open,” he said.—PTI