The girls, for whom this was a first overseas football trip, said the coach was least bothered about the game; he would either be in his hotel room or out visiting the markets.
The Under-18 Indian women’s football team, for whom the chance to represent their country in Australia for the Pacific School Games, was a dream come true, now stands in shock. Their first-ever overseas trip, to test their skills in international waters, turned into a nightmare, when they lost their teammate, Nitisha Negi, to a killer wave on Adelaide’s Glenelg beach.
But besides the loss of their teammate and friend, they faced yet another kind of betrayal.
The girls got little or no support from their coach, Virender Singh, who had accompanied them to Australia.
Anisha Dogra, one of the 16 football players selected from Ahlcon Public School in Mayur Vihar Phase I Extension, recounted, “Our football coach had nothing to do with the game. We played the first two matches in the absence of our coach. When we entered the field, we had no idea about our roles in the game. We started out international experience without a captain, without any game plan and, most importantly, without a coach.”
Another player, Yukti Verma — one of the five girls with Nitisha Negi who nearly drowned in the Glenelg beach — added, “Luckily, we five were from the same school and knew each other’s roles. Nitisha and a couple of more players were from different schools, but since we had participated together in a few school-level games, we immediately and unanimously declared Deepika Venkatesh as the captain of the team. We then fixed roles of individual players ourselves and jumped into action.”
It was a picnic for the coach, alleged Rashi Tomar, another player. “Our team coach had nothing to do with the game. He would always stay in the hotel room or go out to the market.”
The coach, who is associated with Delhi Education and Sports Committee of the Delhi government, was a government recommendation. When contacted, Singh refused to communicate.
Sanjay Chaudhari, another member of the committee, said, “I can’t comment on the allegations, as I was not there with the team. But Virender has been leading teams in overseas tours for the past several years. And he selected the players for the Under-18 football and hockey team for both boys and girls at Chhatrashal Stadium.”
He added, “After School Games Federation of India [SGFI] asked us to select two teams from Delhi for Pacific School Games, we immediately contacted the schools to send their best players. The team selection process was concluded in just three days before the teams left for Australia."
This was corroborated by the team, who said that SGFI had not organised any practice matches before leaving for Australia. Even more surprisingly, the teams — both hockey and football — did not practise their games even before going to the field.
City Spidey made several calls to Rajesh Mishra, general secretary of SGFI, to know his views on the matter, but his phone could not be reached. Another SGFI official, too, refused to comment.