In mid-2005, the Indian army declared it had a mission. Armyman Rajyavardhan Rathore had won India's first individual Olympic silver at Athens the previous year and the Army, flush with pride, declared open Mission Olympics, a long-term project that they believed could produce a number of Olympic champions.
Though the details of the project — splashily announced with banners and billboards around Delhi — were shrouded in secrecy, most in sporting circles hoped that with the Army involved, India's dismal track record in Olympic sport would change.
On April 1, 2009, the ‘Mission Olympics’ “catch-them-young” scheme here in Delhi is expected to die a quiet death yet the reasons for this demise remain obscure.
While the tennis project reportedly closed down last year, the projects in shooting, cross country (running) and golf — which the Army believed would be drafted into the Olympics sooner than later — will be closed down in two months.
Officially, while the Army remains mum on the Mission — the officer in-charge, Lt Col Javed Hussain, would not confirm or deny the development — top sources involved told HT that Delhi was done with it. Sources said coaches had been told to be on stand-by to hand over the equipment and other sports paraphernalia to the concerned authorities.
A high-ranking officer said the official explanation given to them for the closure was that a similar “catch-them-young scheme” was being run by the Army's Boys Sports Company (BSC). “So there was a kind of overlapping. Perhaps that's why the Army decided to close it down.” The strange part is that the BSC has been around before Mission Olympics was conceptualised, so that could have been factored in earlier.
Sportspersons under the project were entitled to weapons, equipment, schooling, boarding, training etc all free of cost.
This development is likely to be demoralising for shooters who trained in the Mission in Delhi like Abhilasha Joshi, who clinched the 10m air rifle gold at the National Championships in Indore in 2006. “A lot of good shooters will suffer,” said Indian team coach Deep Bhatia. "This is not the way to close a mission, especially when it had started giving results.”