India's heartening effort at the London Olympics has raised the sports ministry's hopes that the country will emerge as a sporting power by the 2020 Olympics.
However, barely two months after our athletes returned home with six medals (the most won by India in a single Games), ground reality raises doubts whether the authorities are serious when it comes to sustaining the momentum.
This attitude is reflected in the way diet for future medal prospects, training at various Sports Authority of India centres across the country, has been slashed.
For example, the amount of milk given to trainees per day has been cut down from one litre to half. Same is the case with fruits. Some centres have even stopped serving non-vegetarian food while fruit juice is no longer on the menu.
Soaring food prices and authorities sticking to the old diet rate have hurt the diet of India's elite athletes chasing future glory.
The use of commercial LPG for cooking has added to their woes. The authorities are struggling to even match last year's diet from a daily allowance of Rs. 125.
The allowance has not been raised since 2009 while food prices have zoomed in the last four years. For example, the price of milk has gone up by around Rs. 10 per litre in the period.
HT has collected details from centres in Goa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur, and the facts are shocking.
At the Bhiwani SAI training centre (STC), which has produced Olympic and Asian Games boxing medallists, milk in the athletes’ daily diet has been slashed to half a litre while they have stopped serving non-vegetarian dishes in the last couple of months.
Even eggs have disappeared. This is in contrast to the past. After its trainee, Vijender, won bronze at the 2008 Olympics, trainees were given three glasses of fruit juice, but from this year, it has been rolled back to two.
“It's very difficult to get results with such bare minimum diet. We have been facing this problem from last year. I even tried to explain the situation to the sports minister during the cash awards function in New Delhi in November last year, but nothing happened,” said coach Jagdish Singh, a Dronacharya awardee who is posted in Bhiwani. In Goa, there are two STCs and both are grappling with similar problems.
Curd, served daily in the past, is given only thrice a week. Earlier, trainees used to get fish daily. Now, they are served fish only four days a week and the quantity has been slashed.
“We are facing a tough time. We are somehow managing. At times, it becomes difficult to explain to the trainees,” said a coach from Goa.