One prominent sector in sports hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic is the coaching fraternity. Having turned to full-time coaching once they realised that sport in the country was on the ascendancy in recent times, these professionals have lost their livelihoods now.
I am not referring to top-level coaches of the Sports Authority of India or other public sector units who are regular employees. I am talking about the unseen faces at the grassroots and club levels, who found in coaching a full-time vocation around 5-8 years back, encouraged by India’s performance at the world level and the Olympics. They are former players, many of them having played at the state level. Some of them even gave up their jobs in big companies to make a living out of coaching because that is what they were good at.
Unfortunately, they belong to an unorganised sector which not many outside the realm of sport are aware of. The coaches are not restricted to badminton alone, there are thousands of them spread across the country involved in various sports. Not only coaches, others who represent the entire support system that an athlete requires to excel – physios, sports psychologists, nutritionists, trainers – have no source of income now.
Having worked as individuals all along, the coaches feel neglected with no one to represent their case to the government, national sports federations or state associations. They don’t have a platform to air their grievances. No one is aware of their problems, the government or the public. They don’t have an association or a body to represent them.
It’s time we took cognisance of their suffering. Immediate relief may not be possible, but we can definitely think of finding a long-term solution to their financial needs. Going forward, NSFs can take the initiative by starting a fund.
Ideally, I would want badminton to take the first step. If a beginning can be made here, it will show the way to other sports. I request the Badminton Association of India president to take the lead, identify those in need and help them. For this to happen, BAI needs to create a countrywide database of coaches, umpires and all other support staff related to the sport, like they have done for players. Such information can also be helpful in identifying talent among coaches. Things will also become a lot easier if the coaches can come together to form an association to represent their case in the future.
This pandemic break is a big setback to sports. We need to learn our lessons from it. If not, coaches will have second thoughts about taking it up as a full-time profession. This will hit sport at the grassroots level.
Also, parents may discourage their children from taking up sports related careers if they find that there is no future in it. We are far behind USA and Europe in sports science. In a bid to bridge the gap, many enterprising people tried their best to keep pace with change in recent years, going abroad for courses in sports management, psychology and other specialised fields, spending a lot of money. If this is what they get in return, the gains the country has made in sport may well and truly be lost.