Athens/New Delhi, Aug. 24: The government has sacked national weightlifting coaches Leonid Taranenko and Pal Singh Sandhu in a rapid response to the doping scandal at the Athens Olympics.
The heads rolled with unusual speed — a committee appointed by the Indian Olympic Association has three weeks in hand to file its report — after Pratima Kumari, one of the two weightlifters who failed the drug test, publicly accused the coaches of duping her. The other lifter, Sanamacha Chanu, had said someone had spiked her beverages.
However, sports minister Sunil Dutt insisted that the termination order was not issued in haste, saying: “We took a week to decide.” Dutt had said the day the scandal broke that whoever took drugs, not those who made them take it, should be held responsible.
“They (the coaches) have been appointed by the ministry. When I appoint somebody, when I engage the services of somebody and if they don’t care for our sentiments, I think those people are not required,” the minister said today.
Dutt added that the coaches failed to inform the government of the doping incident. “A wrong thing has happened. It was their duty to inform the ministry that such a thing has happened here and this is the truth. They never informed us.”
An official release issued in Delhi said the government “has lost confidence in the two coaches in the wake of these incidents”.
However, Sandhu pleaded innocence in Athens. “The girls used to go to their personal advisers during the Games. It’s the advisers who have done this and tarnished the image of the coaches,” he told PTI.
“The government should have waited till we returned to India. I had no role to play,” he said.
Taranenko is also in Athens but he was not available for comment. Indian officials in Athens said the two would be sent back as soon as travel arrangements are finalised.
Sources said the action against the coaches could be the first step in a clean-up drive that might cost more officials their jobs. A senior official of the Indian Weightlifting Federation could also face the axe once he returns from Athens.
The practice of hiring foreign coaches from countries such as Belarus — Taranenko is from the former Soviet state — which have a history of doping had come under scrutiny after Pratima said she was tricked into taking a series of injections by the coaches while she was training there.
Pratima, however, was dismissive of the decision to terminate the services of the coaches. “It does not make any difference to me. I still haven’t got justice for the manner in which I was dragged into a conspiracy by them (the coaches),” she said in Delhi, where she has been camping to get an appointment with Dutt.
“They have suffered no loss. Taranenko will go back to Belarus. Pal Singh Sandhu was a retired official who had been hired on contract. After the Olympics, they would have anyway sat at home,” she added.
The contract of Taranenko, whose fee is being paid by the sports ministry, was valid only till the Olympics and he would have needed a renewal to continue in his post. But Sandhu, employed by the Sports Authority of India, could have remained as coach if the dismissal had not come.