The end of the Rio Olympics has shown India what great talent, if provided all the necessary support, can achieve. PV Sindhu was an epitome of consistency as she almost snatched the gold before finishing as India’s first woman to win an Olympics silver. She owed her success to national coach Pullela Gopichand’s hard work and guidance of the highest order.
But that was an exception, and one man’s missionary zeal. As the Indian contingent returns with very few medals from Brazil, it is time to reflect on the odds many of the athletes were fighting against, and how its sports administrators let them down.
For the first time, three women wrestlers qualified for the Olympics. India’s first medal came from them with Sakshi Malik bagging the bronze. And but for injury, Vinesh Phogat was also a bright medal hope. Yet, their request for the services of a woman physiotherapist was not granted. This in a sport where many bouts are fought and medals decided in a single day.
The story was similar with gymnast Dipa Karmakar, whose physio was flown from India only after she qualified for the final. There was controversy and complaints of nepotism over the choice of the Indian contingent’s chief medical officer, Pawandeep Singh, a radiologist rather than a sports medicine expert.
Pawandeep happens to be the son of Indian Olympic Association vice-president, Tarlochan Singh. The second squad doctor, Col RS Negi, too, is a radiologist and there are reports that he is a distant relative of the IOA secretary, Rajiv Mehta.
Some of the sports officials and administrators, too, were hardly interested in ensuring the athletes stayed in focus. A senior wrestling official behaved loutishly with Sakshi in her moment of glory, in the full glare of the media.
And sports minister, Vijay Goel, brought acute embarrassment to the country after the Rio Games organisers threatened to cancel his accreditation if people accompanying him did not end their “aggressive and rude behaviour”. Goel was pulled up for trying to enter areas that required accreditation with people who did not have it, but threatened officials manning the entries. He also had no qualms pulling aside boxer Vikas Krishan, tired just after his bout, for a photo opportunity.
India also is a rare country from where political leaders land with their chosen few at the Olympics burning the tax payers’ money. Haryana sports minister, Anil Vij, not just went to Rio with his men, but spent no time at all encourage athletes from the tiny state which dominates sports like boxing and wrestling. Instead, he was happy to spend time in his beachfront Rio hotel.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted Indian athletes to win medals by the bagful. But what is needed is to put in place a professional set-up which ensures that sportspersons are at the centre of sports’ planning. The medals will follow.