It’s a good sign for India’s Olympic dream that the prime minister has announced the setting up of a task force to prepare a comprehensive, long-term action plan for the next three Olympics as I have always said there is no magic mantra to change things overnight.
Before making any suggestion for the development of Olympic sports in the country, I want to congratulate the girls who did a commendable job in Rio. They have overcome the mental and social barriers and performed. PV Sindhu’s silver, Sakshi Malik’s bronze and Dipa Karmakar’s creditable fourth-place finish in the final of a gymnastics event are all firsts for India.
There is no dearth of talent in India. If sports is promoted to the extent it should be, among that half of the population, one doesn’t know what gems will be uncovered. They need to be provided facilities when they need the most. I look forward to the time when an almost equal number of men and women qualify for the Olympics.
The foremost thing for any sport to grow and produce champions is to have a broad base, among boys and girls. “The broader the base, the higher the pyramid” and “catch them young” are two phrases I coined and implemented in the 1970s as Director of Sports, Punjab. We have to popularise sport and attract more and more youngsters to the field.
If we talk about hockey, during our time the sport had a huge following and there used to be good competition even at college level. Over the years, the domestic structure of the sport has gone down and ultimately it has had a negative impact on our performance at international level. So, if we want to improve our showing in the next Olympics, we have to strengthen our national circuit and popularise sport starting from school and college.
Facilities and coaching
In the last couple of years, we have provided decent facilities in the national camps, but if we want to challenge the best in the world then we have to provide top facilities to our athletes from their formative years. For this we need a strong network of state-of-the-art academies across the country.
These sports centres must have top-class facilities, including best coaches and recovery experts. Providing infrastructure is not the responsibility of the central government alone, and the state governments should also contribute. The coaching levels need to improve. I suggest that instead of hiring foreign coaches, our own coaches selected on objective criteria should be sent abroad to learn and then come back and teach. This will ensure continuity and be more cost effective.
However, the most important requirement is a uniform and transparent nationwide selection process to choose players to these academies starting from the sub-junior level to ensure that the best talent comes through. Government support for their education and health is a must, and then parents won’t discourage their kids from pursuing sports as a career.