"Just one medal to show for a country of over one billion people," has been the chorus of disgruntled voices as the Indian contingent returned from the last three Olympic Games.
Usually, such an event is followed by reports of the 'humiliating' performances of the Indian sportspersons, the 'wastage' of money in sending hordes of officials and the number of shopping bags they return with.
No dearth of talent
Indeed, a count of eight gold (all in hockey), four silver and five bronze medals in nearly 100 years of participation in the biggest sports extravaganza; 400-odd medals in 14 editions of Asian Games; a world title in cricket, hockey and chess; a dozen-odd world titles in cue sports and a few hundred medals in Commonwealth Games and SAF Games is certainly inadequate for India with its vast human resource base.
However, a clutch of medals in shooting and archery at the World Championships in recent times and rapid strides in athletics — such as Anju Bobby George's long jump bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships in 2003, wrestling, boxing, cue sports and golf point to India's ability to reap richer rewards at multi-discipline events like the Olympics and Asian Games.
Cricket is a stumbling block
The triumphs, however, have been few and far between. Traditional school of thought holds our obsession with cricket as the reason. Says hockey player Dhanraj Pillay, "The media has to give equal importance to sports other than cricket. At this moment, it seems there is nothing beyond cricket."
But India's cricket obsession is only a small part of the problem. Former All England Badminton Champion Pullela Gopichand says, "Besides good infrastructure and well-trained coaches, there's need for centralised training facilities with sports psychology and sports medicine backup."
Though there is support from the government, the effort is not enough for a sporting revolution. A budget allocation of Rs 669 crore, as against a demand of 929.29 crore, for 2006-07, seems paltry after deducting salaries of officials and coaches. However, IOA secretary general Randhir Singh, says the government is spending enough.
"No other democratic country spends as much. What we need is more contribution from the private sector. All their support is for cricket," avers Singh, an Asian Games gold medallist himself.
He says the IOA has signed MOUs with the Confederation of Indian Industries and FICCI to raise funds for sports. Sadly, the MOUs have not been successful.
Randhir points out improvement of infrastructure, world-class equipment and coaches and top-class sports science back-up for sportspersons need attention if India wants to become a sports superpower.
Coaching holds the key
Prakash Padukone, former World No 1 badminton player feels a right mixture of coaching camps and exposure is a prerequisite to global success. "The experience of playing at the international level is important. There should be a good talent scouting apparatus besides good infrastructure."
Former India hockey captain Ajit Pal Singh who led India to its lone World Cup title in 1975 shares Padukone's views.
"In order to compete with the world, a thorough knowledge of sports medicine, latest training methods, equipment and infrastructure are a must," asserts Singh.
Fostering a sports culture, is essential, says Gopichand. "Sports should be made compulsory at school in addition to broad-based research at the grassroots."
Email Author: Shrikant Bhagvatula: Shrikant.firstname.lastname@example.org