Mission Olympics: Where Do We Go From Here?
NEW DELHI: With curtains down on the Rio Olympics 2016, discussions will likely cease in due course. and revived in the run up to 2020.
This time India sent the largest ever Olympic contingent to Rio – 118 athletes. PV Sindhu earned the double distinction of becoming the first Indian woman to win a silver medal in Olympics, as also the youngest Indian Olympic medalist. Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal – a bronze. Dipa Karmakar missed a medal by a whisker. Vinesh Phogat was plain unlucky with the injury she sustained. Saina Nehwal and Yogeshwar Dutt were dismal starters with Saina handicapped with a knee injury for which she has undergone surgery now. All said and done, it was more or less predictable that WADA wouldn’t clear Narsingh Yadav’s participation.
To-date, India has won 28 medals in the Summer Olympics; known as ‘The Olympics’. This includes 11 medals (including 8 gold medals in hockey) in 12 Olympics between 1920 and 1980, after which our hockey went down once artificial turf was introduced.
With an active social media, comments, commendations and condemnations kept pouring in; odd jaundiced individual lambasting athletes, more severely afflicted commenting on the caste of the athletes – deplorable to the extreme.
The government’s contribution in preparations of and for the athletes came under scrutiny; as did the presence of politicians and government officials in Rio, including the conduct of the Sports Minister and those accompanying him;even the selection of a particular doctor and his employability. Television channels earned their TRPs by discussing why politicians and officials are going to Rio despite the cash crunch, though political tourism is hardly new in India. Twenty years ago, during the Congress rule, a 15-member delegation of MPs went on a 14-day foreign trip (seven days in Japan followed by seven days in South Korea) to ‘check the implementation of Hindi’ in our embassies in these two countries.
United States of America topped the medals tally. It has won 2399 medals all told, crossing the 1000 mark of gold medals alone at Rio. At Rio, the US bagged 121 medals including 46 gold medals.
India was ranked at 67 from the top at Rio with one silver and one bronze medal.
Significantly, the US has never had a sports ministry or a sports minister. At Rio, southeast countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam were ranked higher than India – so was Fiji.
While in countries like China and Russia government involvement in preparing Olympians is total, in the US it is a huge volunteer effort where involvement starts as early with a child of four years age with parents putting in time energy and money. In India, government involvement is small other than national teams like hockey, where also selection and training get mired in politics and intransigence to systemized training.
The question is where do we go from here notwithstanding the usual blame game and sloganeering of 20 gold medals at 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, Saina Nehwal, Vinesh Phogat, Aditi Ashok have all been individual efforts, like most others. Looking at the past, medal won by Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt have all been individual efforts with minimal government support. We have role models like Pullela Gopichand whose badminton academy has scientifically trained stars like PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal.
This is the culture that needs to be spread across the board with the government providing the infrastructure and finances.
Look at the problems Sakshi Malik faced training as a girl child in a conservative society. Sakshi says that as a child she wanted to be good in wrestling because it would give her the chance to fly in an airplane. True, we don’t have many parents who would encourage their children in individual sports that require considerable expenditure with a dubious future as they see it, but this should change with social media publicizing that PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have been already rewarded with Rs 13.11 crores and Rs 4.66 crores respectively till date, in addition to elevated jobs and other perks.
Dipa Karmakar’s therapist was not allowed to accompany her to Rio till she reached the finals, with Dipa now saying we still don’t have in India the type of world class equipment she needs to aim for the gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
Have we looked at stamina building scientifically? What else is the reason we cannot participate in events like swimming, cycling etc.
In India, the budget with the Sports Ministry in the current Financial Year is Rs 1592 crores. In addition, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) is allocated Rs 381 crores to organize more Nationwide Sports training camps to spot the right talent. Rs 150 crore stand allotted to promote sports in the northeast. Then Rs 150 crores are allotted for supporting institutions and Rs 12 crores allotted for anti-doping activities. All this makes a total allocation towards sports to Rs 2,285 crores – an overall hike of Rs 67 crores from the previous FY.
Of course we must go into the details of how this money is spent considering our bureaucratic functioning – example being MoD discovering last year that $3 billion was lying “forgotten” in the US since the past few years and the recent discovery of $8.2 billion accumulated as “unspent” money in defence public sector undertakings since 1975.
Which big fish has been prosecuted or convicted in the blatant CWG scam anyway?
The fact remains that we are spending far too less on individual participants as compared to other countries. As importantly, if we can reward PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik combined with Rs 17.77 crores after they won their medals, why couldn’t portion some of this to be spent to prepare them for the gold medal, which in turn would have also got them greater financial rewards. Whether we knock off the Sports Ministry and work through SAI is for the government to decide but more funds are definitely required.
The government could look at establishing an ‘Olympic Fund’ augmenting it from other sources: if a single IT raid in Virar nets Rs 13,000 crores of slush money, can such recoveries go towards the Olympic Fund?
Overall we have only been scratching at the periphery of the Olympics considering the Rio Olympics featured 28 sports – a total of 28 sports in 41 disciplines and 306 events.
We don’t need ‘general’ participation in all but should we not aim to participate in say 20-25%, increasing gradually?
Why can’t we excel in sports like volley ball, football, beach ball, weightlifting, hammer throw, discus, javelin, hammer throw?
Why have we fared badly in boxing, shooting - isn’t it lack of scientific training? With the current system in place and despite Prime Minister Modi’s push, we may not show much improvement at Tokyo in 2020.
So why not rope in the top 50-80 business-industry houses for patronizing one sport-cum-discipline on voluntary basis – to include a selection of talent and world-class training.
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi gives a call to business houses, which can also be part of CSR, the response would be immense.
Smaller industrialists-business houses could patronize games like squash. If Pakistan could dominate the world in squash, any reason we cannot?
Money should hardly be a problem with the daughter of a powerful industrialist wearing a diamond studded dress reportedly costing Rs 90 crores circulating on the social media.
The government should augment the overall effort by provision of infrastructure, finances, selecting young and fresh talent and socially messaging the need to promote sports, as done for yoga.
(The writer is a veteran of the Indian Army Special Forces)