"I have been cheated," says gymnast Pranati Nayak's long-time coach Minara Begum
India's lone entry from gymnastics in Tokyo Olympics, Pranati Nayak, is now being assisted by her newly appointed coach Laxman Manohar Sharma, which has aggrieved her long-time coach and mentor, Minara Begum.
West Bengal's Pranati Nayak will be the lone Indian gymnast going into the Tokyo Olympics. Nayak, who had claimed a bronze in the vault event at the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in 2019 was assured of an Olympics berth after qualifying via the Continental quota when the Senior Asian Championships, which were scheduled to be held in China from May 29, were cancelled due to the pandemic. Nayak was the reserve behind a Sri Lankan gymnast for the Asian quota.
However, Nayak is now being assisted by her newly appointed coach Laxman Manohar Sharma, which has aggrieved her long-time coach and mentor, Minara Begum, who has been coaching her for the last 18 years.
In February 2019, Minara retired from Sports Authority of India (SAI) but she continued to be Pranati's coach. Senior Asian Artistic Gymnastic Championships held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia during April 2019 and World Championship at Stuttgart during October 2019. Sharma, who just assisted Pranati with online training during the lockdown in 2020, now has recommended his name, who will be going to Tokyo along with Nayak.
Minara feel disgruntled as she has been axed just before the Olympics. In an exclusive conversation with The Bridge, the 61-year-old veteran coach said, " 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?"
Nayak took up gymnastics at the age of eight. Her father took her to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus at Kolkata, but they were turned down because young Nayak was too frail. That's when they met Minara, who took Pranati under her wings.
Nayak was determined, and she found an able coach-cum-mentor in Minara Begum. Minara not only took care of Nayak's education and meals, but she also taught her the nuances of gymnastics. Pranati blossomed under Minara Begum's tutelage and quickly established herself as the one to watch out for in Indian gymnastics. Her consistent performances helped her gain a job with the Indian Railways and she continues to work there.
After her Asian Championship bronze, Pranati had ramped up her vaulting proficiency – even scoring 14.20 at the last major international event.
"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.
"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," says a heartbroken Minara.
"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 adds.
Since the announcement of Pranati's qualification for Olympics, Begum has written numerous letters to SAI and even to the Director-General Sandip Pradhan, which has not been addressed, Minara says. Unable to receive any support, Minara has drafted a letter to the Indian Olympics Association (IOA). The letter read:
"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)."
To further verify the facts, The Bridge spoke to Laxman Manohar Sharma over a telephonic call. When asked about Minara Begum's involvement, Sharma said "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."