India’s women’s boxing high performance director Rafaelle Bergamasco, who guided Lovlina Borgohain to a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, has decided not to renew his contract after a fallout with the Boxing Federation of India (BFI).
Bergamasco, whose contract was ending this month, informed BFI and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) on Wednesday that he no longer wants to continue. The BFI had offered him a two-month extension after a long delay.
Bergamasco in his letter to SAI said, “I would have loved to continue my work for another Olympic cycle but I was not happy to be forced to accept the 2 months extension offered by BFI and SAI jointly as a solution to push away the present time. I am grateful to SAI and BFI for the opportunity provided for past four years and practically all of us lived like a family here in India working together for our common goals.”
He left for Italy on Wednesday night.
“There was no delay over his contract,” BFI secretary general Hemanta Kalita said. “We have to follow a process. We had written to SAI for a three-month extension for the boxing coaches. He does not want to continue and was looking for a contract till the Paris 2024 Olympics. That is his choice. We are soon going to come out with an advertisement for the post.”
When contacted, Bergamasco said he felt “hurt and disappointed” by the way he was treated by the BFI. The Italian, who returned to India early this month with hopes of his contract being renewed for the next Olympic cycle after Borgohain’s Tokyo medal, said that he spent three weeks at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here trying to reach out to the BFI but with no response. He said he also read reports that BFI was looking for a new coach.
“On Tuesday, I spoke to BFI officials and asked them about my contract and they told me to go to Bhopal and attend a coaches’ workshop for two weeks. I said I have been writing letters to BFI president, secretary, asking them about my contract but there was no news, and suddenly within one minute you are asking me to go to Bhopal. I said I want information on my contract. I don’t want to be in this situation because in another couple of days my contract will be over,” Bergamasco said.
BFI then told him they will get back. “They wrote to SAI that Rafaelle doesn’t not want to go to Bhopal,” Bergamasco said. “I told SAI I never said that. I said I don’t have a contract.
“If you don’t want me, please tell me, I will go, I have no problem,” Bergamasco added. “But why you are not responding? You don’t speak to me for 20 days. This is the respect you give me. I did not want to end it like this.”
BFI then got back to Bergamasco offering a two-month contract.
“I told them I don’t want a two-month contract. I have informed SAI. My job here is finished,” said Bergamasco, who came to India in 2017 ahead of the youth women’s world championships in Guwahati and was then elevated to elite coach and a high-performance director following a highly successful tenure.
At the 2017 youth world meet, India won five gold and two bronze medals. It was the beginning of Bergamasco’s four-year plan for a medal at the Olympics. At the 2018 world championships, India won four medals, including a bronze by Borgohain. At the worlds in 2019, India won four medals again, including a silver. Under Bergamasco, four Indian women boxers qualified for the Olympics–Mary Kom, Pooja Rani and Simranjit Kaur–out of possible five categories, making it the most successful qualifying campaign ever. This makes the Italian the most successful coach the Indian women’s boxing team has ever had.
“When I came as coach, SAI gave targets–medals at youth world championships, elite world championships, Asian Championships and Olympics. Every tournament they wanted medals. I met all that. Then why are you giving me two months?” Bergamasco said. “I wanted to work here for the next Olympic cycle in Paris, which is only two years, and this year we have world championships. There is lot of planning that has to be done.”
Asked what he thinks could have gone wrong, Bergamasco said. “I don’t know. I am not a yes man. If I feel any change is needed, I will tell that. I don’t like such situations.” He declined to elaborate on that.
Known for his technical and tactical knowledge, Bergamasco, who has coached the Italian men’s and women’s Olympic boxers, brought a big change in training and mentality for the Indian women.
“It was very difficult at first. I changed the methodology and made them believe that they can win. We did some good work,” he said.
He met Borgohain for the first time at the national championships in Rohtak in 2018.
“She was the first athlete I met after being made women’s team coach. She was disappointed so she did not return home. She was still there, and we started preparation for the world championships a week in advance. She struck me for her physical appearance, very strong, and for her determination to learn,” Bergamasco said.
But he also saw her technical flaws and the strategic mistakes she was making.
“Her boxing style was not suited to her physique. I had a long conversation with her explaining the errors she had to eliminate and where she needs to change. Her boxing was just about defensive-offense. She didn’t move much on her legs. Her height allowed her to wait and see and counterattack at the right moment without risking physically strong opponent,” he said. “We also worked on the psychological aspect to increase her self-esteem. She was committed to follow my methodology. She has sacrificed much and committed even during difficult moments of Covid with dedication to achieve what we set out to together.”