Every time I say India’s target for the 2020 Olympic Games is 25 medals, the sceptics shudder. But not only do I stand by my statement, I would go so far as to say we might even exceed this number.
It was heartening to see the interest the London Olympics generated. It was equally heartening to see the new crop of sporting icons the Games threw up.
But if we are to do better, instead of resting on our laurels we need to analyse our performance.
Sushil Kumar in his final bout of wrestling was not 100% fit. Before Yogeshwar Dutt left for London, he was praying for injury-free bouts. Lack of a mental trainer made our top seeded archers look ordinary on the day of competition.
In the run-up to these Games, we had to depend on 146 foreign exposures and 29 foreign coaches for our teams.
Lack of sporting infrastructure is one area of concern, but a broader area is the lack of a sporting culture. In schools, our children are encouraged to do well only in academics; and the lack of parks and playgrounds in our cities do not help either. According to the planning commission’s working group report on disease burden, heart diseases, stroke and diabetes are projected to increase cumulatively in India.
The World health Organization has also predicted that one out of every three Indians will either be a coronary patient or a diabetic by 2030.
These facts are really an indication of poor lifestyle habits and lack of physical activities. And these in turn impact our sports culture.
It is not enough to aim high; we also need to work towards that common goal.
The sports ministry has decided to set up an autonomous National Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in New Delhi and a National Coach Training Institute in NIS Patiala. We intend to spend around Rs. 500 crore in the 12th Plan period. We have also signed an MOU with the Governments of Cuba, China and Australia for lateral linkages of this institute.
As for fostering a sports culture, we should focus on the schools. Apart from their academic ratings, school students should be given weightage for sound physical fitness and this should be taken into account when they go for higher education.
Achievers in non-cricketing sports should be assured of sound career prospects by the government, and once their active sports career is over, their services should be enlisted to coach at other grassroot facilities.
Urban planning should also incorporate development of playgrounds.
When we started Operation Excellence (OPEX) London in April 2011, we selected 732 core probables from 16 sports disciplines, for which the services of 121 Indian Coaches, 29 foreign coaches and 65 support staff were enlisted. A steering committee for each discipline was formed, and an apex committee under the minister supervised the entire programme. Around R150 crore was released, of which half was spent on foreign exposure.
We will now extend the program to OPEX 2020 with 2016 Olympics as the review post.
A bigger POOL
The number of core probables could be much higher than the erstwhile 732; there will also be a structured talent hunt programme organised at regular intervals. And instead of 16 disciplines the focus will be on five or six disciplines in which we are strong, have good bench strength and which have more medals on offer.
Foundations like Olympic Gold Quest and Mittal Champions Trust played a very important role these Games. This time round, their relationship with the Sports Authority of India and the Sports Ministry will be more structured at least so far as talent identification and monitoring of our programme is concerned.
So many plans, so much to get done. Do I really think 25 medals is possible? I do.
Let's get to work.
(The writer is The sports minister of India)