The Squash Federation of India has shot back at star athlete Dipika Pallikal Karthik after she aired her displeasure over the absence of a full-time foreign coach for players headed to the Asian Games.

According to reports, several players have expressed their displeasure at state of affairs since the exit of former coach Achraf Karargui in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games.

Lack of a foreign coach

Pallikal, though, has made her grievance public and told Deccan Chronicle that the team was in desperate need of a coach.

Speaking highly of Egyptian coach Karagui, who she continues to train with on a personal basis, Dipika lamented on the lack of technical nous within the current coaching set-up.

Incidentally, national coach Cyrus Poncha and 16-time national champion Bhuvneshwari Kumari will be travelling with the contingent for the Asian Games.

However, Dipika stated that she had stopped training under Poncha.

“We are in desperate need of a coach. Cyrus has been with the national team for many years. But when it comes to coaching during matches, players are used to looking after each other. Cyrus only does a managerial role liaising with the federation and organisers. Not just me, Saurav Ghosal hasn’t trained with him for many years. Other players such as Mahesh Mangaonkar and Ramit are on their own and Sunayna Kuruvilla (the third member of the women’s team) is being trained by Balamurugan,” she said.

In response to Dipika’s claims, the Squash Rackets Federation of India issued a statement that “stoutly refutes the insinuation by Dipika Pallikal Karthik in various newspapers that the lack of a foreign coach has been a big blow for the Indian team.” The release said that, “it is unfortunate that at a time when the focus had to be on the Asian Games an effort was being made to disrupt the mind-set of all concerned with the preparations for the Games.”

A federation spokesman, referring to the departure of Karargui, said he had left due to personal reasons and one of which was allegedly “intense squabbling between the two leading women Indian players.”

Issue over reward recommendations

It also recently emerged that the federation did not approve Dipika and Ghosal’s recommendations for coaches not recognised by the federation for government-issued monetary rewards. Pallikal had recommended A Parthiban, a former player, while Ghosal named Digpal Singh Ranawat, who the federation was not even aware of. Parthiban confirmed to that he had earlier received his cash award of Rs 9 lakh from Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu.

“To claim now that [Karagui’s] absence had affected the preparations is at best an attempt by Dipika to vent her own frustration at the federation for not accepting her request to attest/ratify A Parthiban as her coach to enable the latter to draw the financial benefits which come under the awards scheme,” the federation release on Wednesay said.

The federation insisted that her training for the doubles competition was entirely at the Indian Squash Academy (under Poncha) which is the only centre in the city which has doubles court. Parthiban had confirmed to earlier that his academy did not have doubles facilities but confirmed he has been working with Pallikal. “I coach at the Bhavans Rajaji Vidyashram academy, where Dipika comes anytime she wants. It’s true that there are no doubles courts here at the academy, but she doesn’t train for doubles all the time. When she wants to train personally, she works with me,” he had said.

The federation insisted that Parthiban was not a recognised coach at the ISA academy and Dipika’s request to ratify him as a coach to help her present his case to the Union Sports Ministry for drawing monetary benefits were rejected. SRFI also said, from 2002, Poncha and Kumari, had been travelling for key international events with the players and providing them inputs, and stated that Dipika had herself requested Poncha’s presence on tours in the past, providing email sources.

It must be noted that Ghosal has also aired his reservations over the lack of top quality coaches in the country. “We guys are on the tour for major part of the year, so effectively we don’t even need a full-time coach exclusively for ourselves. It is for the players coming up. A hands-on junior coach is also the need of the hour, someone who is taking care of the budding talent. We just do not have good enough coaches at the moment,” he had said, adding that someone of the calibre of Karargui had to go and no one had replaced him.

SRFI release, in response, noted that Poncha is the only Level - III coach in India, an accredited World Squash Federation Level - II Tutor and the only Dhronacharya Awardee for Squash in India.

“The federation regrets this unseemly attitude by Ms. Dipika Pallikal Karthik when the need of the hour is for them to join together and work for bringing more laurels to the country,” the federation said.