Four years after India shed its tag as a ‘one-medal nation’, the country’s athletes are gearing up for the London Olympics. Millions of sports lovers and experts are confident that the athletes will return home with a clutch of medals. In Beijing in 2008, Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal was a shining example, pun intended, of what determination added to talent can help one achieve. The bronze medals for boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar demonstrated that we need not fight shy in sports that make great physical demands.
This time, our medal hopes lie in badminton, archery, tennis and wrestling, besides shooting and boxing. Compared to the days when Indian athletes had to run from pillar to post to get things organised at the last minute, there is a clear improvement in the way their training is planned to peak at the Games. However, the persistent big question is whether India has the sort of infrastructure needed to meet the growing medal ambitions at the biggest international meets.
The scarcity of shuttle-cocks at the national camp in Hyderabad, where none less than the big medal hope Saina Nehwal is training, was highlighted by this paper. The chief national coach kept the camp going by providing shuttles from his academy, but it betrayed poor planning so close to the Games. It showed a lack of professionalism on the part of the badminton federation, and sloppy coordination with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to ensure release of funds. It was yet another sad example of how, as much as things change, they remain the same. Our walkers, who will represent the country in London, were forced to buy their own ‘walking’ shoes after SAI failed to provide them. Our sports administrators need to be more accountable and update themselves with advancements in sports. The apathy, however, is not restricted to equipment. There have been instances of unhygienic food being served at national camps.
During the build-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the organisers took their time to get the infrastructure ready. In the end, excellent facilities were built for the Games but Indian athletes could not train there. Two years ago, national soccer coach Bob Houghton fumed at how poor infrastructure was holding back the game’s development.
Things have improved much since the days when shooters used to lament that they had to run from pillar to post to lay their hands on proper ammunition. Today, the sports ministry underwrites their training expenses and there is no shortage of weapons. Most of our shooters have established bases in Europe, where facilities are excellent and from where it is easier to travel to pre-Olympics competitions and train in relative anonymity. Boxers, too, have no problems. But there are sports where players still have to fight for their rights. That should teach our sports federations and administrators that much needs to be done to attract talent into various Olympic sports, and that making available cutting-edge infrastructure that their elite athletes can use should remain topmost on their list of priorities.