The Beijing Olympics in 2008 was a landmark in Indian sport. After managing just one medal each in the three previous Olympics, and none from the one before that in the 1992 Barcelona edition, the number went up to three in China. Most importantly, shooter Abhinav Bindra won India’s first individual Olympic gold, inspiring his compatriots. The medal count rose to six in London, indicating that Indian men and women athletes are not inferior to the best in the world.
However, the progress has not always been the outcome of a smooth process. There are certain sports India can claim to be on level terms with the best — shooting, badminton, wrestling and archery — and can look forward to winning medals at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, starting tomorrow. If their ability has not always led to podium finishes, it only shows that training and planning should be more sustained as the margin of error is negligible. India are hoping to match or better the 65 medals, including 14 gold, they won in the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010. But another disorganised build-up could hurt the chances. Self-serving federation officials packed the contingent with many undeserving members, including athletes or teams without much of a chance to win medals. The government, under pressure from the sports bodies, then spent time slashing the list when the focus should have been on fine-tuning.
This has only disrupted the final training schedules of deserving candidates, as peak form is crucial to compete in many world class events. The government too has been overbearing, for instance not allowing managers initially and then issuing a diktat that a participant will be given daily allowance only from five days before competition to one day after it. This is akin to treating an athlete like a robot without any idea that reaching South Korea early and acclimatising is vital for optimum performance. Even if the government’s hand was forced due to the late submission of the list by the Indian Olympic Association, such directives reflect a lack of understanding of what it takes to competing against the best.