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Government wakes up only for major Games, no progress on improving past record

While there is focus on cricket 365 days, it is sorely missing when it comes to Olympic disciplines, reflecting a lack of ambition when it comes to big events like world meets. As a result, barring the odd good performance, the show by top athletes is ordinary.

other sports Updated: May 31, 2017 10:16 IST
Navneet Singh
For better results, almost all NSFs deliberate on long-term coaching, but not the sports ministry officials
For better results, almost all NSFs deliberate on long-term coaching, but not the sports ministry officials(PTI)

The sports ministry and the country’s administrators running the National Sports Federations (NSFs), it seems, only wake up when a major event like the Asian Games or the Olympics approaches. Otherwise, the issue of inculcating sports culture among India’s youth takes a back seat.

Read | Road to 2020 Tokyo Olympics gets bumpy for India’s top athletes

While there is focus on cricket 365 days, it is sorely missing when it comes to Olympic disciplines, reflecting a lack of ambition when it comes to big events like world meets. As a result, barring the odd good performance, the show by top athletes is ordinary. The absence of precise preparation in a world where leading sports nations leave nothing to chance has haunted India for decades, but little is done to address that.

On Monday, sports minister Vijay Goel held a meeting with stakeholders to review the preparation for the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games. A government observer said there were discussions and recommendations, but none knew how much progress has been made towards improving past performances.

“It is doubtful if things are moving at a fast pace on the ground,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Taking the shortcut

There are several issues, including doping, that have hampered India’s preparation for major international competitions. The Rio Olympics contingent suffered a setback as two leading athletes – shot-putter Inderjeet Singh and wrestler Narsingh Yadav -- failed dope tests. Sprinter Dharambir Singh too was caught for doping.

Read | Doping row: Suspended Indian athlete national 400m hurdles champion

Inderjeet was expected to qualify for the final as he had been very consistent. He had recorded 20.65m in 2015 and regularly surpassed 19m in competitions.

Yadav was considered a medal prospect in men’s 74kg freestyle event. Despite returning a positive test, the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) gave him a clean chit. It suggested the government wasn’t serious about checking the doping menace in the country. Yadav’s case was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) and he wasn’t allowed to compete in Rio. He was selected in the first place after the federation (WFI) refused double Olympic medalist, Sushil Kumar’s demand for trials.

Big contingent

One huge problem lies with the government. Rulers of the day see medals as a feel good factor, but nothing substantial is done to inculcate sports culture. This despite the passion people have for sports as they tune in to Olympics or World Cups in millions.

Read | Indian athlete arrested in US on charges of sexually abusing 12-yr-old girl

A Kolkata football derby featuring East Bengal and Mohun Bagan draws thousands to the stadium with many following on TV or on the net. Road running culture has boomed across the country and so has cycling in most cities.

The sports ministry planned to send a big contingent to Rio. It gave training funds to the core group of athletes at the last moment and the number surpassed 100.

At least three athletes -- Renjith Maheswary (triple jump), Jinson Johnson (800m) and sprinter Dharambir Singh (200m) made the cut before the deadline of July 11. The men’s and women’s 4x400m relay team too qualified for Rio increasing the number to 39.

Barring marathon runners T Gopi and Kheta Ram, and woman steeplechase runner Lalita Babar, others failed to repeat their home performances. Babar set a national record of 9 minutes, 19.76 seconds to reach the final, eventually finishing tenth.

CK Valson, secretary general, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) bemoaned the failure by track and field athletes. He said the focus of top athletes is on qualifying, and once that is achieved they are unable to repeat their performances. “We’ve been addressing the issue of peaking at the wrong time. Hopefully, we can deliver the goods in the next major events,” he said.

Professional approach

After the shooters failed to win a medal at the Rio Games, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) constituted a panel headed by India’s only individual gold medallist, Abhinav Bindra, to review what went wrong. The report criticised the functioning of the NRAI and recommended that the federation should adopt a more professional approach to churn champions.

However, post Rio, chief national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand has emerged the most successful person in terms of management and coaching his wards. His training gave India back to back Olympic medals. Saina Nehwal won bronze in the 2012 London Games while PV Sindhu claimed silver at the Rio Games. Others can take a leaf out of Gopichand’s book.

Long term goal

For better results, almost all NSFs deliberate on long-term coaching, but not the sports ministry officials. The top officials, including the secretary-sports, the top bureaucrat in the ministry, being changed often hardly helps.

The ministry’s pet project Target Olympic Podium scheme (TOPs) to give financial assistance to top athletes to prepare for the 2016 Olympics drew flak as proper screening wasn’t done to shortlist athletes.

The government wants to follow USA’s highly successful university sports system. Unlike most nations, the US does not have a sports ministry. The US Olympic Committee is responsible for the Olympic movement, including the sending of entries for the Olympic Games.

Big advantage

Judo may not be a priority event for the sports ministry, but the system followed by other leading sports countries highlights how talent is nurtured. Post Rio Olympics top European judokas participated in more than half-a-dozen competitions, but India’s Avtar Singh, who had qualified for Rio Games, never got that opportunity. “It’s a disadvantage as we don’t get international experience compared to athletes from Europe. In an event like judo, the more we compete the better we get,” he said.