Indian gymnast, Pranati Nayak will be the sole athlete representing the country in the sport at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Nayak, hailing from West Bengal, booked her ticket in the coveted Games after qualifying via the Continental quota when the Senior Asian Championships were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Nayak’s new coach, Laxman Manohar Sharma, started training her during the lockdown in 2020. He has now recommended his name to accompany the gymnast to Tokyo. The news has aggrieved Pranati Nayak’s long-time coach, Minara Begum.
Begum had been training the Asian Artistic Gymnastic Championships vault bronze medallist since 18 years. She retired from SAI in February 2019 but continued to train Nayak. The 61-year-old veteran coach felt disgruntled after being axed just before the Olympics.
“I have simply been a victim of politics. I have trained Pranati since 2003. There is no such rules that even I am retired from SAI, I cannot coach Nayak personally. If you see, Nayak’s performances in the Asian Championships, where she won a bronze and also World Championships, because of which she qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, she was with me at the time. How can everyone forget my contribution overnight and give Sharma credit?” she told The Bridge.
“Because of politics, I was left in the lurch,”
Pranati Prakash’s long-time coach Minara Begum is disappointed from not being being able to accompany her prodigy to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Instead, Nayak’s new coach, Laxman Sharma will be accompanying her.
Gymnast Pranati Nayak was all of 8 years when her father took her to SAI’s Kolkata campus. However, she was turned down for being too fragile. That is when Minara Begum took the young girl under her wings. Along with teaching her the nuances of gymnastics, Begum also took care of her education and meals.
Under the veteran coach’s tutelage, Nayak blossomed into a fine gymnast. Her consistent performances also helped her bag a job at the Indian Railways. The 26-year-old established herself as the next big thing in Indian gymnastics with her Asian Championship bronze and she hasn’t looked back ever since, even scoring a 14.20 at the last major international event.
Minara Begum has blamed politics for being dropped from the Olympics. “I was with Pranati till October 2019. When the lockdown was imposed, I continued to give her instructions online. But, because of politics, I was left in the lurch. I have been subjected to politics quite several times by sports administers. During the Asian Games, India had sent four gymnasts, and two of them were coached by me. Yet, I was not allowed to join them,” she said.
The gymnastics coach went on to say that she feels cheated considering she has been responsible for Nayak since her early days. “When Laxman was appointed to go to Tokyo, I was surprised Pranati never protested. Who knows whether she was pressurised. But I feel like I have been cheated on. I didn’t only train Pranati but took care of everything related to her. Whatever was the requirement, I fulfilled for her. From her pan card to passport, even her gymnastics costumes were decided by me,” she said.
The heartbroken Minara Begum added that she cannot reach Nayak since Sharma started coaching her. “Today, Laxman takes charge of everything, he keeps Nayak’s phone with himself and doesn’t let us speak to her. The rest of my students try to call Nayak but cannot reach out,” she added.
Minara Begum drafts a letter to IOA
Since Pranati Nayak’s Tokyo qualification, Minara Begum had written numerous letters to SAI and even Director-General Sandip Pradhan. However, none of them have been addressed according to Begum. Unable to receive any support, she has now drafted a letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
“I am writing this mail to you to inform you that after working all this years for my country today, I am being side lined and deprived from coaching for the Olympics at the most important training period. I retired from SAI officially in 2019 February but, I trained Pranati till the end of 2019 since we were in India Camp held at IG Stadium New Delhi. Today SAI Claims that she is a student of another coach who is just 27 years old and who has no experience of even training a district level player and giving him the role to coach for Olympics to an inexperienced coach has hampered proper coaching for Olympics which is at this time needed the most. I informed this issue to Director General SAI, he says that the young Coach has trained Pranati online through Zoom during lock down so he will be appointed for training .Training someone online cannot produce an Olympian it is good for being in touch with sports but in a Game like Gymnastics it is never possible. My 18 years of hard Work to bring an Olympic Medal for India has gone in ruins just because of politics being played with sports (sic),” the letter read.
Laxman Sharma was asked about Minara Begum’s involvement. “I have done nothing wrong and my appointment as the coach has been done rightfully. I cannot do anything about Minara Begum’s remarks, because I feel she is simply putting the blame upon me without any reason,” he answered.