Only a nation bereft of much sporting achievement can celebrate milestones in mere participation. Or perhaps it’s just that we have no sporting culture to talk of and as such any achievement is blown out of proportion; there aren’t too many of those, you see.
An omnipotence of connectivity shapes the thought process of the world now, so it’s foolish to believe that there aren’t enough discerning souls who can put qualifying for the Olympics in context. Whether we send 100 athletes to Rio or twice that number, what really counts is how much metal this lot hauls back.
Yes, for a nation that has never had so many people achieving the Olympic mark, it well calls for a thump on the back of the athletes who made it. Yes, these are the best we have and their qualification achievement, no matter how insignificant on the international stage, may well be celebrated.
But amid all this chest thumping and self-congratulation, I fear the people who are actually responsible for moulding sportspeople in this country manage to get away with mediocrity. When we celebrate participation instead of performance, the thekedars of sport in this country are able to justify their existence instead of being held accountable for their indifference.
The government has a laudatory scheme for funding the campaigns of our Olympics participants. It would be all the better if there was some logic to the way it goes about doling these funds. For instance, Dipa Karmakar’s unique qualification in gymnastics got her a knee-jerk Rs 30 lakh sanction from the government. As to just how she is going to spend this to aid her performance at Rio with the money coming her way a bare three months before the Games is anybody’s guess.
Discus thrower Seema Antil went on record with the Hindustan Times, blasting the indifference of the sports ministry when it came to funding her training. Things changed when she hit the Rio mark but it’s not like those funds will help her extraordinarily now.
The Sports Ministry has become this surrogate place that nobody seems to want. While recent minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s interest was more in bolstering up his party’s chances in Assam, apathy of the incumbent is nothing new to the Sports Ministry. Congress’ Jitendra Singh was also seen far more in the Defence ministry, where he was minister of state, than at Shastri Bhawan. In fact, since Ajay Maken left in October 2011, there really hasn’t been anyone diligently committed to improving the lot of sport.
Disinterest of ministers has left the babus of the ministry in charge. While that may well have been the spur required for a prudent bureaucrat to get on with the job in hand, the sports ministry appears to be unable to find one of those work horse secretaries. Most incumbents in the past were usually more concerned about looking for a ‘better’ posting than getting down to some dogged mess-sorting.
I would rather that we have a 20-member contingent that comes back with 10 medals. But for that to happen, there has to be some sort of vision that’s overarching and beyond the pettiness of the politics which currently dictates sports policy in this nation.
Since India has limited funds for sport, select a few disciplines that we can excel at, narrow down a pool of athletes and then get them to train with the best coaches in world for at least a decade. That way we can hope for a systematic churn in a lackadaisical system that as of now revels in mediocrity.
The way our lot have been trained and funded, sending this 100 to Rio doesn’t guarantee medals. That, when it comes to Indian Olympic sport, needs a massive dose of fortune for we have not had the vision to premeditate a concrete plan. Without plans there is no learning that can be gleaned from present failures to prop up future winners.
Instead, we will celebrate that one medal from someone like Abhinav Bindra, who manically trains with a scary mad-scientist obsession, or hope that our tennis boys stop fighting among themselves long enough to gel out on court. Meanwhile, let’s clap at having reached the 100 milestone in participation. Sigh!