At the Beijing Olympics (2008), we won three medals and in the next edition at London we won six. Following the improvement there was hope that the medals tally at Rio would match, if not better, the haul in 2012.
Our performance was below par and we could only manage two medals — silver and bronze. At the same time, there is good news. Our athletes, especially the girls, came up with commendable performances in disciplines where we were nowhere. This shows we have the talent and potential to win medals at the Olympics.
Dipa Karmakar’s fourth-place finish in vault is proof. In gymnastics, we are nowhere compared to world standards and don’t have the equipment to achieve international excellence in the sport. Despite the odds, Dipa missed bronze by a minuscule margin of 0.1-0.2 points.
If we want to be among medals in the coming editions of the Olympics, we should start preparing right away. Office-bearers of the Indian Olympic Association, national sports federations, Sports Authority of India and sports ministry should plan for the next two Olympics (2020 and 2024).
The plan should keep in mind the current performance of medallists at Rio and the stakeholders should see what is required for our athletes to reach those standards. We need to show the intent and seriousness and work should start without wasting time.
The other important thing is to strengthen the coaching base. Coaches should be given good salaries and other benefits. At the same time, they should also be made accountable. For quite some time, I have been advocating a contract system in coaching. Coaches should draw motivation from Rio silver medallist PV Sindhu’s coach Pullela Gopichand and Dipa Karmakar’s coach Bisheshwar Nandi. If they can produce results, why can’t others?
Moreover, strengthening the coaching base should not be limited only to national camps or at centres of excellence. We should have dedicated coaches at the grassroots level as well. If we don’t take care of the sapling, we can’t expect it to develop into a big tree.
For the development of sports, academies with all the facilities, including admission to good schools and top-quality medical facilities should be made available. We have to provide facilities and only after that can we expect results from the players.
China has a good model of sports schools/academies and we should take note.
A sportsperson has limited time to peak at the international arena. World-class academies can work as feeding centres for national camps, and with this we can have multiple replacements for one spot in the Indian team.
According to me, Athens silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore should be made the sports minister. He has experience, and being an Olympic medallist has a fair idea of what is required for a sportsperson to excel at the world’s highest stage.
(The writer is India’s finest track athlete)