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Wake up call

To improve on Beijing we need to start now. That doesn’t seem to be happening. Saurabh Duggal, Heena Zuni Pandit, Ajai Masand & Indraneel Das report.

other Updated: Sep 17, 2008 15:49 IST

To improve on Beijing we need to start now. That doesn’t seem to be happening. Saurabh Duggal,
Heena Zuni Pandit, Ajai Masand & Indraneel Das report.

Before Beijing, people believed all we needed was one gold medal to inspire us and shake us out of torpor.

Beijing’s over and we are still waiting for things to change. Despite greater involvement, Indian corporate houses largely seem unconvinced about the popularity of Olympic disciplines. Ditto our sportspersons.

“After all, the money is going to the person who has won a medal. What about the sport?” asked a player who was part of the Olympics contingent. “In order to help the sport grow, one has to rise above the individual,” said an official.

We have dared to dream. But that trying to convert three medals into more isn’t going to be easy is an understatement. It will require more involvement, commitment and the belief that our athletes too can. And, of course, a strong sports culture. The USA has one, Australia is famous for it, at Beijing Great Britain, whose sport funding comes largely out of the national lottery. showed that it’s on course to better their haul in London. And by putting a system in place, China emerged the Olympics’ most powerful sporting nation.

So, it’s not difficult to understand why Bindra is contemptuous of things in India. “I am happy I gave India its first individual Olympic gold medal but at the same time I am surprised we took so long to win this,” he had said not long ago. On India becoming a sporting nation, he added: “We can safely say we are a sporting nation the day we win 25 to 30 medals in Olympics. As of now, it’s a long way off.”

Focus on villages

For boxing bronze medallist Vijender Kumar, it is the villages where the government and federations should concentrate. “Most of our sportspersons come from villages, especially in Olympic sports. If we want to broaden our base and improve our medals tally in the next Olympics, the government should focus on creating infrastructure in the villages,” he said.

Wrestling bronze medallist Sushil Kumar echoed Vijender. “We have immense talent in our villages and we should make sports compulsory there,” says the Najafgarh wrestler.

Involve the youth

“We need to cash in on the medals,” is Indian Olympic Association secretary-general, Randhir Singh’s belief. “We need to take certain Olympic disciplines to the schools and colleges and create awareness among our youth so that the next generation flourishes on the world circuit,” he had said in Beijing. For Vijender, it’s also about increasing awareness among masses. “Take the case of boxing. People love watching it. All we need is to attract the youth and convince them that sport can be a profession too,” he says.

“Take the case of Bhiwani where you see scores of youngsters pursuing the boxing. Why just Bhiwani, there can be other boxing hubs as well. After the success in Beijing, the administration is thinking of improving the infrastructure there. What baffles me is why did we have to wait for medals,” says Vijender.

Satpal, Sushil’s coach and director, sports, Delhi Government, also feels inspiring the youth is the way forward. “We have to seriously think of making sports a compulsory subject.”

Even the Sports Ministry feels the role of schools and universities is a must to create awareness and lure youngsters into Olympic sport. “We have already targeted schools and universities where we are planning to provide infrastructure,” said Sports Minister MS Gill. The ministry has already planned to set up 30 astro turfs across the country especially in institutions. Besides this, the Ministry has also approved some Rs 678 crore for the training of elite athletes keeping in mind the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2012 Olympic Games. "Funds and facilities will flow," said the minister. "Infrastructures in villages will be through our Panchayati Raj scheme which has already started."

Right idea, wrong execution

The Special Area Games (SAG) was a scheme which encompassed the educated and non-educated and was designed to reach out to villages in particular disciplines. Its quick success was due to the close monitoring — be it equipment, services of experienced Indian and foreign coaches, diet and sports medicine inter alia. From 1987 to 1991, the SAG did away with the formal education system by arranging for, at least in the Delhi centres, an open school system whereby the probables were mentally tuned more towards pursuing excellence in sports than in academics. The pattern set for monitoring them was aimed at achieving international medals within six to eight years. Unfortunately, the it was decentralised and that was the end of it.

Most of the disciplines under SAG were pilot projects like drawing out street acrobats for gymnastics. When the pilot project did not yield results, SAI should have had the courage to accept failure and discontinue it. But no one was willing and precious funds were wasted. Moreover, the talent scouting and weeding out process should have been a continuous one. But the lack of annual assessment affected the scheme.

The biggest blow came when the Sports Project Development Area Scheme (SPDA), which was launched to augment SAG, entrusted the responsibility of selection on the state governments, rendering SAI’s experts silent spectators. The state officials made a mockery of the selection process with age frauds being perpetrated. It was a well-conceived scheme that met a premature end due to lack of guidelines and willingness.

Will the nation pay heed to what our Olympians believe and change Indian sports scenario? Or will we sleep on our laurels for another four years? Only time will tell.