Foreign wrestling coaches torn between family, responsibility due to coronavirus

Written by Nitin Sharma
| New Delhi/chandigarh |

Updated: March 18, 2020 8:48:53 am

Coach Shako Bentinidis with Bajrang Punia and others.

As the deadly COVID-19 virus causes mass hysteria around the world, two foreign wrestling coaches working in India are worried about the well-being of their family members, who in turn are concerned about the status of the outbreak here. The situation is further complicated by the closure of India’s borders and the temporary cancellation of all travel visas. Anybody leaving the country will be compulsorily quarantined for 14 days on return.

American coach Andrew Cook, who trains the Indian women’s wrestling team, hails from Washington, the US state most affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Cook’s father Jack suffers from a lung disease and the fact that the elderly and those with previous health complications are the ones most at risk from COVID-19 forced the coach to book a flight to the US to be with his parents.

“My parents live in Hoquiam, bordering the city of Aberdeen in Washington. The state has been the worst hit in the USA with more than 40 deaths so far out of the 85 in the whole country. My father suffers from lung disease and as the national camp closed here, I decided to go to the USA last night and spend time with them,” Cook said.

He is also prepared to comply with Indian rules and regulations when he comes back. “Since I have a work visa, my return should not be a problem. Maybe, I will be put in quarantine for 10-15 days and I am okay with the due process being followed.”

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But the real hero in Cook’s family is his wife Rebecca Seltun. Working as a nurse at Grays Harbour Community Hospital, she has been spending 15-16 hours there daily for the past 15-16 days, her husband says. And it’s the measures the Cook household has taken all their lives that have served them well and provided a template for what needs to be done at the national camp in Lucknow.

“She (Rebecca) understands the safety precautions and at our home, we have separate rooms for cleaning and medical clothes. It has also made me follow the basic preventive measures for the last decade and I have been sharing this with all the campers here at Lucknow too,” Andrew told The Indian Express.


While Cook returns home, Bajrang Punia’s coach Shako Bentinidis doesn’t have that luxury, despite frantic calls from his wife on a daily basis. Bentinidis, who hasn’t been to his native Georgia since the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in September last year, is torn between his family and his responsibility.

“My wife calls me everyday. She tells me, ‘You must wear a mask’, ‘Please don’t go outside’. Sometimes when I’m in Delhi and have free time, I like to go to the Ambience Mall to shop and relax. That is not possible now. Everyday I get calls from Georgia asking me not to go outside,” said Bentinidis.

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The closure of India’s borders and temporary cancellations of all kinds of travel visas until April 15 has added to his turmoil. If he leaves the country now, his return would be improbable until the April 15 deadline lapses or the situation becomes stable enough for the Indian government to open its borders.

“It’s a difficult situation for my family. Before the ongoing training camp, I would have called my wife here but now India has cancelled all tourist visas. Now, even if I wanted to go to Georgia for maybe a week or 10 days – especially considering there isn’t any practice for a while – I don’t know when I’ll be able to return. Maybe I’ll be quarantined in a hospital for 15 days because of coronavirus when I come back to India. Also, Bajrang shouldn’t be without a coach for two weeks — without me here, it becomes a little difficult,” said the 44-year old.

Now that Bentinidis is staying in Sonipat with Bajrang, he has ensured that some strict rules are followed so that his wrestlers don’t get infected. Even a simple greeting like ‘ram-ram’ comes with caveats.

“We don’t have any problems in Sonipat. Many people are panicking because of this dangerous virus. Despite that, we’re looking for symptoms, washing our hands every time — after training, before training. And I tell Bajrang that there will be no touching, Only ‘ram-ram’ from a distance. No physical contact between players and coaches.”

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