x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sport coach taking athletic federation to court

A former Olympic coach for the UAE sues after he says he was fired unfairly.

ABU DHABI // Vasko Angelov, coach of the UAE's sprint athletes for the past seven years, said he returned here from the Asia Games in China last year filled with joy and expecting praise and rewards for the team's performance.

Not only was he disappointed - he was fired.

The reason he was given for the dismissal, he added, was that there was "a new strategy". Shortly afterwards, he was blacklisted after his employers reported him to immigration authorities as a "runaway".

Mr Angelov, 55, from Bulgaria, filed a lawsuit this year in the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of First Instance against the UAE Athletics Federation, claiming he was arbitrarily dismissed and asking for compensation and unpaid wages.

At the first hearing on April 11, he told judges his employers did not provide reasons for their decision and did not give him any warning. He was dismissed on December 5 with immediate effect, although his contract was valid until May.

Under UAE law, an employer must give three months' notice if it is not renewing a contract, and two warnings before firing an employee.

"After seven years of hard work for the country and building up the athletics in Dubai from scratch, he managed to deliver distinctive results in the history of UAE athletics," his defence lawyer told the court.

A letter of dismissal, signed by Saad al Mehri, general secretary of the UAE Athletic Federation, reads: "I thank you so much for your dedication and hard work, of which I am grateful and appreciative."

Mr Angelov said: "If they appreciate my work and that I helped raise the profile of the team, why would they fire me with no previous warnings or reasons?"

A copy of his residence file at the Dubai immigration authority shows he was listed as a "runaway" on December 13. He said he went to the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department on December 12 to complain about his dismissal and that the department contacted the federation for clarification. No one from the federation, however, agreed to come to the office, he said.

"I have done nothing but good things for this country, and instead I would be blacklisted? Just like a criminal?" he said.

Mr Angelov said that under his direction, UAE athletes broke 23 national records in the 100, 200, 400 and 4x100-metre disciplines. He delivered 25 medals from international tournaments, although the UAE's sole sprinter in the 2008 Olympics finished last in his heat.

He argued that after his dismissal, the team's results were worse than in previous years. At this year's GCC athletics championship in Saudi Arabia, UAE sprinters won a bronze medal in the 4x100 metres, but only three teams took part in the discipline, meaning the Emiratis came in last.

At the same event last year, sprinters won two gold and two silver medals in 100, 200 and 4x400-metre races. The same team last year won a gold medal at the West Asian Games in Syria.

Mr Angelov said he was dismissed because he was owed a "considerable" amount of money for the medals and records. He declined to provide specific figures.

A date for the verdict could not be confirmed and an official at the federation could not be reached.