Please coach, mind your manners

Please coach, mind your manners
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First Published: Wed, Jul 28 2010. 08 05 PM IST
Updated: Wed, Jul 28 2010. 08 05 PM IST
While testosterone levels understandably run high in people indulging in strenuous physical activity, those initiated into the world of sport over the past year might be led to believe that this universe abounds with sex fiends, not merely players and coaches.
Tiger Woods, for instance, was discovered to have as many mistresses in his closet as golf clubs, French World Cup football players Frank Ribery and Karim Benzema are being questioned for soliciting sex with an underage prostitute, former Australian cricket great Dean Jones has had his Father of the Year award snatched away after he admitted to having a child out of wedlock, and more recently, celebrated Indian hockey coach M.K. Kaushik has lost his job after his ward T.S. Ranjitha accused him of making indecent advances.
This is only a cursory list and if one were to get into the nitty-gritty of hard research, the names could spill over into at least a few foolscap pages. My intention, however, is not to write a treatise on the sexual proclivities of sportspersons—rather, to show that they are not as depraved as the several examples cited above might suggest.
For instance, shortly before writing this piece, I read a story about how a girl student from Mumbai was lured into a sex trap by a man who was also her tutor, and the other day I read of an apparently straight-laced guy marrying five women serially before being found out. It might also be remembered that former US vice-president Al Gore’s 40-year marriage broke up recently, around the same time he was accused of sexual misconduct by several female masseurs.
It is just that sportspersons have a certain imagined virtuousness vested in them by public expectation which makes any such misdemeanour more unacceptable, and therefore, more worthy of a scandal. In saying this, I am not trivializing the issue, nor condoning the sleazy shenanigans of sportspersons/coaches, only highlighting that they are culpably human too and must be assessed, absolved or punished similarly.
But I’ve digressed enough, so let’s address the issue at hand. Where the Kaushik saga is concerned, I must confess to being surprised. In hockey circles, he is known to be an imaginative coach and an achiever. Several of India’s best moments in the sport in recent times have come in women’s hockey and under his tutelage. Indeed, the last time the men’s team won something worthwhile was the Asian Games gold in Busan, South Korea, in 1998 when Kaushik was coach, and the last time India won an Olympic gold, in Moscow in 1980, he was a stellar player.
None of this, however, can save Kaushik from what he has done if he is guilty. He has alleged that internecine politics of the hockey establishment is the reason for his current predicament but I reckon that with 31 women players ranged against him, Kaushik will be hard-pressed to save himself on this ground alone. But whatever the outcome of this affair, there are some messages for the future of Indian sport in this episode.
For one, there is need for greater vigilance from the administration on the conduct of players and coaches in camps, on tours, etc. In the old days, when sport in India paid a pittance, players were humbled by coaches into submission through sheer show of authority; in these times, when sport is becoming increasingly lucrative, players can become submissive because of opportunities held out. The equation between coaches and players cannot have such a pronounced skew, which means the administration needs to play a more proactive role in ironing out the wrinkles without becoming a hindrance.
Clearly, there is also a need for coaches, especially those dealing with women, to understand what constitutes desirable conduct. I spoke to a well-known athletics coach in Mumbai who was bewildered at some of the allegations against Kaushik. “Using aggressive language was common when I coached,” he told me. “This didn’t change from boys to girls.”
Coaches across disciplines, he told me, would goad their wards into pushing their limits by mocking them about their physique; there would be the occasional spanking and four-letter words would be used liberally. “The intention was to extract the best out of the athlete.”
This might be true, but would not pass muster in New Age sensibilities when there is greater awareness of individual rights, and certain methods of mentoring have become wholly unacceptable, if not obsolete—corporal punishment in schools, for instance. Likewise, verbal abuse in sports coaching, even if well intended, would be a no-no.
The issue is not as cut and dried as I have made it seem, of course. When do aggressive methods become abuse? Should coaching become so sterilized that it lacks gusto and vigour? The issue is complex. I don’t have answers, only some advice for coaches: If you can’t keep your mind clean, at least mind your language.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at beyondboundaries@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Jul 28 2010. 08 05 PM IST