There are certain things that refuse to change in Indian sports; like passing the buck. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) director general has suggested remedies in his stocktaking report following India’s dismal performance at the Rio Olympic Games, though it’s all too obvious that they are too cosmetic to have an impact.
While the lacklustre performance --- India won two medals in Rio compared to six in London --- should have spurred the Indian sports officialdom to look at drastic changes and exhaustive brainstorming sessions, the SAI top boss, Injeti Srinivas, has skirted the main issues and said in his report that “no radical changes” are required for improving the standard of India sports.
Coming from a sports administrator, who has been at the helm of decision making in the sports ministry and SAI for nearly a decade, it smacks of short sightedness. Given that he continues to see “some progression in our performance across certain disciplines” even in this dismal scenario, Srinivas needs to wake up and smell the coffee.
“While we do need to make some changes, but they do not necessarily require to be very radical changes (sic),” says Srinivas in his report, even as he goes on to highlight the good things the ministry has done for athletes in the run-up to the Games.
“Many good steps have been taken in the past few years such as liberal funding norms, introduction of TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) and setting up of Mission Olympic Cell, etc. These were steps in the right direction, but may require more gestation period before they can produce concrete results.”
He also says that “there has been some progression in our performance across certain disciplines, such as archery, badminton, gymnastics, hockey rowing and lawn tennis”. Now, those who have keenly followed sport know that shuttler PV Sindhu’s performance was an individual effort --- and the guidance she received from coach Pullela Gopichand --- more than anything else.
Had she been so indebted to SAI or the ministry, she would have given credit to the government. But in her hour of glory, she profusely thanked her coach and family. It was déjà vu, and one probably saw a reflection of Abhinav Bindra after his 2008 Beijing Olympics gold. Bindra had made it clear on return that no one should take credit for his victory. And tennis players hardly get any support from the government on a regular basis.
The report further says, “The medal uncertainty was on account of negligible presence in measurable sport. Even though, shooting and archery also come under measurable sports, unlike athletics and swimming, the performance here lacks in consistency.” Watching shooters Gagan Narang, Manavjit Singh and the like, on whom the ministry spent crores over the last four years, one doesn’t need a specialist to tell sports lovers that consistency was missing.
As a remedial measure, the report talks about “greater emphasis on integration of sports science with coaching and monitoring”. The TEAMS (Training of Elite Athletes and Management Support) wing of the SAI was specifically constituted more than three decades ago keeping in mind “coaching and monitoring”. It’s painful to see the most important aspect of sports being ignored till date. It’s even more painful to see a top bureaucrat peddling old cant as fresh insight.
The report talks about “performance of coaches, especially foreign coaches, needs to be evaluated very minutely… hiring of foreign coaches should be based on strong and proven track record”. The ministry’s love for coaches from the erstwhile Russian states --- lifting coach Leonid Taranenko, athletics coach Yuri Ogorodnik, among others --- are prime examples. Despite being tainted they continued to be nurtured by sports’ governing body.
That speaks volumes of this particular analysis.