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Indian gymnasts coachless over racism claims

Gymnasts at the Asian Games left without a coach after Russian-born mentor walks out, claiming team officials were racist.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA // India’s gymnasts at the Asian Games were left without a coach yesterday after their Russian-born mentor walked out on them, claiming team officials were racist.

Vladimir Chertkov, 51, whose contract ends after the games, left the athletes village and returned to India after being denied permission to take part in Friday’s opening ceremony.

Abhay Singh Chautala, chief of the Indian contingent at the games, admitted there was an argument with Chertkov over the uniform for the ceremony after the Russian insisted on appearing in jeans and a T-shirt.

“Our officials told him to adhere to the dress code. When he refused, they barred him from the ceremony. That’s the last I have heard”.

Chertkov, on returning to India, slammed the contingent officials as racist and said he was humiliated and discriminated against.

“It was an insult straight on my face,” Chertkov was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

“It was humiliation. It was discrimination. The way I was asked to go, I can say it was racism”.

Recalling the incident, Chertkov said that when he told the official the uniform given to him did not fit, the latter replied he could wear “something close enough to the dress or same colour blazer, Olympic style”.

Chertkov said that later, he was told that he could not take part as what he was wearing was “not fit” and he was asked to go away.

“You cannot go with us. You can go,” the coach quoted the official as saying.

“It was the last straw. I cannot take it any more. If I’m not good enough for participating in the opening ceremony, what have I to do?”

Chertkov, asked if he was willing to resolve matters and return to Gunagzhou, said: “I think it is already too late”.

Mr Chautala dismissed the Russian’s racism claims, saying the other foreign coaches in the contingent had no such problem.

“Racism would have been there had we stopped all foreign coaches of our contingent from going to the opening ceremony,” he said.

“But all other foreign coaches were there. Is there anyone who has complained? He is the only one to complain.”

Mr Chautala hoped the Indian gymnastics federation would make alternative arrangements to help the squad.

Chertkov was born in Russia but is an American citizen. He began working with the Indian team in August of last year. His work helped bring India its first-ever Commonwealth Games medal last month, when the gymnast Ashish Kumar won the bronze for the floor exercise.

But in an interview with the Hindustan Times, Chertkov said the Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) had appointed an unqualified insider to manage the country’s squad in Guangzhou.

“I was angry about the selection of Satpal Kalsi as the team manager,” Chertkov said. “He is the personal secretary to the GFI president, Jaspal Singh Kandhari, and by no means is he qualified to be manager of a national team.”

Mr Kandhari told the Times that he doubts the federation will renew Chertkov’s contract when it expires at the end of this month.

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